In the path of destruction

Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda hit the Philippines on November 8th 2013 killing more than 6000 and affecting more than 16 million people, destroying homes, communities and livelihoods. According to the Asian Disaster Reduction Centre, since then there have been 13 more typhoons. The latest on Christmas day just a few days ago. Each typhoon often causing deaths and always resulting in the destruction of thousands of homes. The deluge of desperate headlines from conflicts in the middle-east means that such devastation due to frequent extreme weather events rarely makes international headlines.

Coastline of Northeastern Luzon Philippines. Subjected to storm surges when typhoons hit.

Most tropical typhoons that hit the Philippines originate over the northwestern Pacific Ocean in a region referred to as the Pacific warm pool. Tropical cyclones form when there is warm sea surface temperatures and high humidity in the mid to lower troposphere. These mature into typhoons varying in wind strength and precipitation. With wind speeds over 120 mph recorded in the strongest super typhoons. Pin pointing what conditions are needed for such super typhoons to form is not an easy science. If there ever is an easy science. A flood of scientific papers were published following the destructive power of typhoon Haiyan questioning the cause and analysing its impact. Josefino C. Comiso concluded that the occurrence of super typhoon Haiyan coincided with the highest sea surface temperature observed in the Pacific warm pool for 33 years. Although climate scientists do not attribute extreme weather events to climate change it is hard not to draw from observable patterns. Year on year higher sea surface temperatures are being recorded in this region correlating with strengthening typhoons. With global climate change predicting continued increase in these temperatures it could be surmised that areas like the Philippines will be subjected to more and more destructive typhoons. Miguel Esteban of the University of Tokyo predicts that damage to housing in the Philippines could increase by up to 58% if typhoon intensity continues to heighten. In which case who is to help?

A remote fishing community on the coast of Cagayan province, NE Luzon, Philippines. Separated from the rest of the mainland by the Sierra Madre Mountain Range. Aid does not easily reach these regions.

The Philippines is one of 10 nations identified as most vulnerable to climate change, yet 10 other nations are responsible for more than 70% of carbon dioxide emissions. Where should the onus of responsibility be to help those hit by extreme weather events possibly linked to climate change? Arguments for climate justice, with Typhoon Haiyan, as an example are put across more clearly by Seiji Yamada and Absalon Galat in ‘Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan and Climate Justice’.  Be it attributable to climate change or not, the destruction left in the wake of a typhoon can be devastating. In October 2016 Super Typhoon Haima hit Northern Philippines with winds of up to 140 mph. Although thousands of miles from where I sleep safely, for me this typhoon hit close to home. Devastating communities that I care very much about. Impacting people who have welcomed me into their homes. Although help has reached the major towns and cities found in the typhoons path, many small coastal communities are cut off by the Sierra Madre Mountain Range and have received little support. Particularly affected are marginalised populations such as the indigenous Agta. Without whom I would not have completed my research in the Philippines.

Escobar was my field guide and friend. He belongs to the indigenous group the Agta. He built this house on completion of our field work. Not able to withstand a super typhoon.

For the month of December I have been swimming a mile every day to raise money to help these marginalised communities recover. To give back a little of the generosity I received whilst I was there. My sport relief in a sport that provides me with little relief as I am so terrible at it. My only relief is I have just a few more miles to swim. From my experience Filipinos are resilient in the face of adversity. They will pick themselves up, offer help and support to their neighbours and continue to live until the next path of destruction comes their way.

Donations are accepted here.

I’m swimming for these guys. Who could not have given me a warmer welcome and better experience. The best of the Philippines. 

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