First of all, let me say something to everyone who has volunteered, donated, prayed, or just expressed concern about the Philippines in recent days:
The outpouring of generosity from all over the world is tremendously inspiring and humbling. It underlines the reality that we are all in this together. More on that a bit later in this post. For those looking for where to donate, the New York Times has a good list of organizations, here: http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/11/how-to-help-philippines-typhoon-victims/?_r=0
The first type of context I want to provide regarding this catastrophe relates to geography and population. The Philippines is an archipelago of 7,107 islands. The total land mass is roughly equivalent to the state of Arizona. However, the islands are spread out over an area almost 1.5 times as long as the state of California. They range in size from extremely small to almost the size of Pennsylvania.
There are three main groupings of islands:
- The northernmost and largest island of Luzon, which contains Manila, as well as the provinces of Cavite and Batangas, which I frequent, and is home to one half of the country’s population: about 50 million people. For these 50 million people, “island living” is something of a misnomer. The island is so large that you can easily live your whole life without seeing the ocean.
- The central region, which includes thousands of islands of varying sizes, called the Visayas.
- The southern, second-largest island of Mindanao. The southwestern half of this island is where the majority of the 5 million Muslims in the Philippines live, and is often the site of civil unrest. The other half of Mindanao is predominantly Christian, like the rest of the country, which is 80% Catholic.
The super-typhoon hit the Visayas, especially Eastern Visayas. While the satellite images showed it covering the entire country, in Luzon and Mindanao, and even in parts of the Visayas, the only impact was some extra rain and wind. I have not heard of any flooding on Luzon, a common occurrence with much lessor storms.
Here is the key: 10% of the population of the Philippines was affected by this storm. 90% of the population was not affected.
Both of those numbers are very important. Imagine if a storm affected 31 million citizens of the USA, meaning several large states completely devastated. Now you have some idea of just how large, powerful, and destructive this storm was.
On the other hand, the entire country was not destroyed! 90% of the population was not directly impacted.
Of course that 90% is very focused on helping the 10% who were affected. So the country, while severely challenged right now, possesses considerable strength with which to deal with the aftermath.
Imagine the administrative delays and snafus, the protests, accusations, and demands that would result if a storm wiped out 30% of all buildings in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina.
No country on Earth today is prepared to deal smoothly with a storm of this magnitude. The Philippines had made many preparations that were simply washed away by the massive storm surge. So please, have some flexibility in judging the response of the Philippine government.
Now let’s turn to the political and environmental context.
This storm was not merely a natural phenomenon. Humans, and especially humans living in the USA, had a helping hand in making this happen. I am tired of the constant refrain of, “We cannot definitively tie any specific climate event to climate change.” As my late grandfather used to say, Hogwash! Consider the following:
- We have been told for years now by scientists that climate change would lead to larger and more severe storms.
- This was, according to several reports, the largest and most severe storm ever to make landfall anywhere on Earth.
I don’t think I need to go on. It seems clear that THIS storm, if not its existence then at least its magnitude, was caused by climate change. And the country whose emissions of greenhouse-causing gases has contributed the most to climate change over the last 200 years is my country, the USA.
Countries like the Philippines are paying the price for our industrial development, and our official refusal to responsibly limit our emissions, even after the impacts of climate change have begun to affect populations all over the world. Countries such as the Philippines are paying the price in blood and tears for our lack of responsibility.
This is the context missing from the news coverage. It is time to start climate reparations. Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed to a Global Climate Fund, or GCF, to which the most developed countries would contribute, to pay for repairing climate change damage in those poorer countries most affected. The Philippines is predicted to be among the 3 countries most affected, and is, unfortunately, already off to a good start on that.
The GCF is supposed to amount to 100 billion dollars per year by 2020. A downpayment on that of 5 billion dollars to the Philippines right now could go a long way toward not only recovering and rebuilding from this storm, but also making unprecedented and massive preparations for future super-storms.
The GCF is one of the major sticking points right now in the annual climate change talks going on in Warsaw, where the head of the Philippine delegation has started a hunger strike, until meaningful progress on an accord is in sight: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/12/world/asia/typhoon-in-philippines-casts-long-shadow-over-un-talks-on-climate-treaty.html
There has been no movement because the US and other wealthy countries are refusing to provide any funds for the GCF.
Please don’t disrespect my intelligence by telling me that the US doesn’t have the money. Consider:
- We could cut several hundred billion dollars from our military budget and still spend far more than any other country on Earth.
- We could impose a fraction of a cent tax on financial taxes and raise a similar amount.
- We could increase taxes on the wealthiest to their levels under President Clinton, or increase taxes on fossil fuel companies, and raise a great deal of money.
- We have the money, lots of it. You’ll see that very clearly the next time the US goes to war.
Obviously, this isn’t going to happen just because I think it should. It will take thousands or millions of people organizing for it and demanding it. There are many organizations and groups active on this issue. Lately I have become enamored of this one:
Take a few minutes to learn what they are about. And feel free to comment, even if you think I told you not to above.
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