Four years after the desastrous typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, Alanah Torralba, one of our two FES Climate Media Fellows, is still haunted by the images etched in her mind. That is why at COP23 in Bonn she focuses on Climate Justice for the most vulnerable countries while reasoning for accountability for loss and damage by the Global North.
I have been a photographer and journalist for more than ten years. In that span of time, I have covered politics, rallies, demolitions, earthquakes and typhoons. Seeing death and destruction is part of my job but nothing had prepared me for the massive devastation caused by Typhoon in 2013—a disaster that claimed the lives of 6,000 people and left more than one million homeless.
I arrived in Tacloban City, Leyte, four days after the super typhoon hit several provinces in Eastern Visayas. At that time, all communications and networks were down. Images of the destruction were scant. I had no idea of the extent of the damages caused by the typhoon until I saw it myself.
One of the scenes that I will always remember was the hundreds of people walking under the heat of the punishing sun, with what little possessions they had managed to save from the storm.
People whose lives were destroyed by a calamity that could have been prevented were not crying or grieving. They were too hungry and thirsty to grieve. They had no time to deal with their exhaustion or despair. Instead, they tried to find ways to survive on their own, even if it meant walking for 20 or 30 kilometers to another town or city that could provide them with refuge. Everyone wanted to escape the city desperately.
Meanwhile, dead bodies littered the city as entire communities were flattened huge storm surges. I can still remember the stench of rotting bodies that lingered for the two weeks that I stayed there.
Four years later, these images remain etched in my mind. Typhoon Haiyan, for me, was the turning point in how I viewed climate change. It is not just an issue of weather disturbance but also a matter of delivering justice and protection to the most vulnerable people in society.
This is the reason why I followed loss and damage in the negotiations closely. I believe that developing countries, such as the Philippines, have a huge stake in these meetings, as climate resilience cannot be achieved by developing nations on their own. Cooperation and financial assistance from developed countries is integral to building adaptation and mitigation programs that can withstand the test of another extreme weather event.
In a negotiation, representatives from the US and Australia said that »not every disaster is caused by climate change.« While there is a debate on whether or not we can claim that climate change has singularly caused super typhoons and intense drought, it has certainly intensified them.
Building infrastructure and health systems that can help people adapt to the adverse effects of climate change must not be relegated to political debate. It needs to be elevated to a human rights framework.
I am reminded by a statement that Dr. Bärbel Kofler, German human rights and humanitarian aid commissioner, made during an interview. Respect for human rights must also account for the causes of climate change, she said. Therefore, industrialized countries whose unabated pollution of the environment enabled them to become prosperous must contribute more to mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage.
That is at the heart of the debate on loss and damage: whether or not a global fund that prepares for the inevitable costs of climate change must be created, where developed nations must contribute more.
In the end, when every nation is adept at tackling the intense effects of climate change, global economies will be much stronger. Where there are strong infrastructures and stable political institutions, trade among nations will be much easier and more efficient. If vulnerable nations, such as the Philippines, are able to become climate resilient, the global economy benefits as well.
In these times of intensifying weather and increasing pollution, the world needs to act to deliver justice to the most vulnerable in society. We know another Typhoon Haiyan is forthcoming. Preparing for the inevitable is of paramount importance for the Philippines.
One life lost to climate change is one too many.
Text and Photos: Alanah Torralba
To strengthen climate journalism around the globe, the FES Media Fellowship COP23 this year cooperates with Climate Tracker and supports two young journalists, Alanah Torralba from the Philippines and Alo Lemou from Togo, who participate in this program. They receive a climate media training, report from COP23 and take part in FES events as well.
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