Haiyan’s wake-up call

Paolo P. Mangahas
The ravaged places and faces we are now seeing in the Philippines paint an all-too-real picture of what is in store for the rest of the region

Typhoon Haiyan (local name Yolanda) slammed the Philippine archipelago on November 8 and battered the eastern Visayas region and many other parts of central Philippines with winds of up to 196 miles (315 kilometers) an hour.

It was the strongest storm to hit land in recorded history, killing more than 5,000 people as of Tuesday, November 26, and affecting at least 13 million (according to UN estimates), whose homes and lives have been swept away by the powerful storm.

It was certainly a natural calamity that everyone saw coming but no one was prepared for. 

Alarm bells

As if on cue, Haiyan reminded the whole world at the United Nations climate talks, which took place in Warsaw, Poland, on the urgency to come up with a global resolution and concrete steps to address the effects of climate change.

It was a call that hit too close to home for the Philippine delegation, whose lead negotiator made a plea before the conference to “stop this madness” and apply urgent action to avoid a repeat of the devastating storm that just ripped his country. 

The Philippines is part of the Coral Triangle, a highly biodiverse marine area in the Asia Pacific region, whose countries are one of the most vulnerable to climate change. Island nations in the Coral Triangle, which also include Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Timor Leste, are facing the real and imminent threats of severe weather patterns, flooding, rising sea levels, warming oceans, and decreased ocean productivity, which could compromise the food and livelihood security of the more than 130 million people living in coastal communities, who directly depend on the ocean for their daily survival.

Real and present danger

While it might be difficult to directly attribute Typhoon Haiyan to climate change, scientists have predicted more and more extreme weather conditions to happen due to an increasingly warming planet.  

Across the Coral Triangle, we have already seen the impacts of global warming on fragile marine ecosystems through mass coral bleaching episodes – a phenomenon caused by increased ocean temperatures wherein algae living inside corals are expelled and in the long term, corals turn white and die. Aside from increased ocean temperatures, causes of bleaching may include disease, pollution, sedimentation, cyanide fishing, changes in salinity, and storms.

If we are to ensure the welfare of the millions of people who are most susceptible to the planet’s changing climate, immediate steps must be taken now because the cost of not doing anything far outweighs the cost of being prepared.

Ecosystems, people, and societies at risk

In 2009, WWF [World Wildlife Fund] released a report which described the risks of climate change to ecosystems, people, and societies in the Coral Triangle. The report points out that if the world does not take effective action on climate change, coral reefs will disappear from the Coral Triangle by the end of the century, the ability of the region’s coastal environments to feed people will decline by as much as 80%, and the livelihoods of more than 100 million people will have been lost or severely impacted.

In this scenario, the valuable resources of the Coral Triangle will be wiped out by increases in ocean temperature, acidity, and sea level. The resilience of coastal environments and communities will also plummet, together with food security, jobs, and the economy.

Millions of people will be forced to flee their coastal homes and put more pressure on already congested urban areas – a scene now heavily playing out in the Philippines with nearly 4 million people left homeless by the typhoon.

Choosing a different future

There is an opportunity to change the course of our climate-sensitive future if public and private sectors invested more heavily in strengthening the Coral Triangle region’s resilience to climate change.

Building a robust Coral Triangle with its valuable resources intact involves the effective management of coastal resources through channeling sustainable finance mechanisms and investments towards climate adaptation projects, creating alternative livelihoods that help alleviate pressure on marine resources, building local capacity in climate change planning and response, establishing locally-managed regional networks of marine protected areas, protecting the integrity of mangrove forests and seagrass beds, and employing best management practices in fisheries. Such measures will help ensure that the long-term needs of people are met amidst turbulent natural conditions.

On top of these, enabling platforms and investments to create significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions must also be provided and supported by the international community and strictly adhered to by national governments and corporations.

WWF’s Seize Your Power global campaign on energy efficiency is one of the ways we individuals can make our voices heard and let governments and corporations know how serious we are about climate change and our future.                                         

No time to waste

As climate change debates continue to polarize discussions, many parts of the world are already experiencing the effects of a climate-changed planet. Violent storms, severe droughts, sea level rise, loss of coral, and declining fish stocks from coastal fisheries are making their presence more strongly felt and will soon become a staple part of our lives.

The ravaged places and faces we are now seeing in the Philippines paint an all-too-real picture of what is in store for the rest of the region if we continue to ignore the delicate and inextricable link between people and nature.

Implementing and investing in adoptive measures to weather climate change is not only crucial, it is our only choice. – Rappler.com



This piece first appeared on www.panda.org on Nov 19, 2013. It was edited for style purposes and to reflect latest figures. Paolo Mangahas leads communications for the WWF Coral Triangle Global Initiative. Follow the WWF Coral Triangle program on Facebook: www.facebook.com/thecoraltriangle and Twitter: www.twitter.com/coral_triangle or sign up for the monthly newsletter: http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/where_we_work/coraltriangle/newsletter/

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