Wood: Philippines typhoon a taste of the future

For Chris Wood‘s family, the typhoon and aftermath that devastated the Philippines is personal: his nephew was  in its path. Only one brief text, after the storm passed, has provided reassurance that Leighton Wood and his family were fine.

Wood warns that unless we take action, many more families and communities will needlessly suffer freak weather events. “If Yolanda/Haiyan is not yet a smoking gun for climate change, it is where our climate is going, and our natural security policy responses are not keeping up,” writes Wood in today’s Natural Security column, then outlines what needs fixing. Excerpt:

I’ve spent a good deal of the last few days glued to the computer screen, sifting the internet for news from the Philippines. Not from any motive of disaster voyeurism (the armchair version of a new industry, ‘disaster tourism’), but searching specifically for any word from a place called Romblon.

F&O Chris's nephew, Philippines

Leighton Wood (L) and volunteers digging foundation for library in San Agustin, Romblon, Philippines (credit CERV)

Romblon is a tear-drop-shaped island about 16 km from top to bottom, located between larger islands roughly in the centre of the Philippine archipelago. The central ‘eye’ of Typhoon Yolanda (also called Haiyan) a monster 600 km from edge to edge, passed about 80 km south of Romblon’s only town, on the island’s northern tip.

That town is where my nephew, Leighton, and his family live. My brother’s younger son, for the last several years, has shuttled between Canada and the Philippines, schlepping drywall into construction sites in downtown Toronto to earn enough money to travel back to Romblon and continue to volunteer there. I saw him most recently a month ago, with his Philippina lady friend, visiting Canada briefly with her daughter before all three returned together to Romblon. He proudly showed me a video of the library he had helped build, by hand, in the town. When I asked, he told me it was across the road from, and perhaps a couple meters higher than, the ocean.

For hours, the only word was from the worst-hit city of Tacloban—about 330 km from Romblon. It was of utter devastation, scenes reminiscent of the wasteland left behind by the tsunami at Fukushima, Japan. Then there was dispiriting news about the failure of rescue teams to break through blocked roads to the afflicted town; relief convoys met by armed hijackers and mobs of looters. At last, reports from a shattered city; images of a mother protecting her child against the stench of 10,000 human corpses—and who knows how many animal ones—decomposing in the tropical heat.

This, I was thinking, is what happens when natural security fails … Read Needed: Better natural defences (subscription required).

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