It is impossible to put into words the despair that millions of Filipinos are going through right now. Days after Haiyan (Yolanda) sliced through the central islands of the Philippines, it has become horrifyingly clear that the damage wrought by the super typhoon has been colossal, the devastation absolute. As of this writing, almost a thousand people have been officially confirmed to have lost their lives. The number of dead, however, is expected to exceed 10,000 – as more reports continue to filter in from other cities, islands and villages that were flattened by the apocalyptic winds and enormous walls of sea water that came rushing ashore. More than 10 million people are estimated to have been displaced by this single event. Hunger, sickness and despair now stalk the hardest hit of areas, even as aid from both local and international sources started to trickle in. The President has already declared a state of national calamity.
It will probably take a few more days, maybe weeks before the total extent of this disaster can be confirmed. But for sure, this is now considered the worst natural calamity that the country ever experienced. While storms and typhoons are indeed natural occurrences, the ferocious strength and destructive power delivered by this typhoon have been characterized as off the charts and beyond normal. This is also not the first time. Last year, there was Bopha, which left more than 600 fatalities, and before that a number of other weather aberrations too freakish even for a nation that has grown accustomed to getting more than 20 of these howlers in any given year.
As if on cue, and following the template of Bopha in Doha, Haiyan also came at a time when the climate COP is taking place, this time in Warsaw. Some of you would have already heard about the emotional opening speech delivered by the head of the Philippine delegation at the climate summit yesterday, bewailing the absence of responsible climate action at the global level and refusing to accept that the fate of Filipinos may now be irretrievably linked to a future where people are served super typhoons for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
We find some consolation in the fact that most of our staff and their families in Manila have been spared the wrath of the typhoon. For the most part, given the poor state of communications and lack of accessibility in the affected areas, there is very little we can do in terms of helping out in the direct relief efforts. We are however, coordinating with groups like the Philippine National Red Cross, MSF and others to see what support we can give by way of lending equipment and pooling donations from our supporters.
Once again, a disaster such as this one, underscores the urgency of the work we do as a global organization on climate change. It is in fearful anticipation of tragic scenarios such as these why our staff and activists go through great lengths, putting their life and liberty at risk, to take action at the frontlines of climate destruction – whether that’s in the forests of Sumatra or the hostile waters of the Arctic. I would like to believe this is part of the larger narrative why 30 of our colleagues remain in detention in Russia. And it is our hope that they find courage and inspiration to endure the injustice they are going through, moving the planet away from the clear and present danger posed by runaway climate change.
We thank you all for the messages of solidarity and support you have sent our way at this time. More importantly, I would urge you to use this moment to remind your governments that every investment in fossil fuels is an investment in death and destruction. The impact of new coal plants being built or new oil fields being developed – do not remain in their immediate vicinities – they translate into epic humanitarian disasters and tragedies, as we continue to witness in the Philippines.