The mass graves in Tacloban, on the Philippine island of Leyte, are lined with white crosses. Survivors who chose to remember their loved ones, even with uncertainty whether their bodies were truly found, have written names on the crosses – one cross for each family member who perished in the storm. They place photos on the graves, light a candle, say a prayer.
On Nov. 8, 2013, super typhoon Haiyan, known as Yolanda in the Philippines, made landfall with one-minute wind speeds of up to 315 kph. More than 7,400 people were killed or remain missing and are presumed dead. Today, at least a million survivors still do not have safe homes to live in. Many are still rebuilding their lives. Damage was estimated at US$2.86 billion.
While Filipinos are known for our “resiliency” and for still being able to smile despite what comes our way, there are things we can no longer hide. Haiyan/Yolanda is one of them. We still reel from the typhoon that devastated us. And although we keep saying that “The Filipino spirit is waterproof,” the truth is it is not. We are vulnerable in the face of nature’s wrath. Writer-activist Ninotchka Rosca put it beautifully: “No, we are not resilient. We break, when the world is just too much, and in the process of breaking, are transformed into something difficult to understand.”
Haiyan transformed us. We are no longer the same people. The water that used to give us life now drowns us. The cool winds of Christmas that used to kiss our cheek now sweep away homes. The rains we used to dance under now gives us fear.
In search for justice
While we seek to make sense of such senseless deaths, we remember our departed and continue to seek for justice. Super typhoons like Haiyan are extreme weather events caused by climate change. While the Philippines experiences an average of 20 weather incidents per year, eight or nine of which make landfall as typhoons, there is no doubt that typhoons have become stronger and beyond our capacity to adapt to.
Climate change as we know today is human-induced, mostly caused by fossil fuel consumption and rich countries whose carbon emissions have contributed much to global warming. These are the same countries that want to commit as little as possible in the climate negotiations, turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the devastation happening in countries like the Philippines.
Every year, countries meet at the Conference of Parties (COP) to negotiate about how to solve the climate crisis. Interestingly, year after year in recent years, the Philippines has been ravaged by storms while negotiations were happening. In 2012, it was typhoon Bopha during COP18 in Doha. In 2013 it was typhoon Haiyan while COP19 in Warsaw was happening. In 2014, it was typhoon Hagupit while COP20 was in Lima. This year it was typhoon Koppu while pre-Paris negotiations were happening in Bonn.
This year, the 21st COP will be in Paris on December. After 21 years of negotiations, countries are expected to come up with a legally binding agreement that will see all countries take climate action. Developing countries and least developed countries want a strong agreement, nothing token.