The Climate Crisis Has Started. How Bad the Effects Will Be Is Up to Us.

2020 calamities are just a preview of what awaits us due to climate change.

Shirley Tapel stares off at the distance while holding back tears. In front of her, an ABS-CBN reporter holds the mic for an on-cam interview. “Pagod na pagod na talaga ako. Nag-aayos tapos maghahanda tapos may bagyo na naman daw. Mag-iimpake na naman” (I’m just exhausted. We haven’t even picked up all the pieces and yet we have to steel ourselves again for another typhoon), she says, the ruins of her wooden house at the backdrop.

This was in November 9, a few days after Catanduanes and other parts of Central and Southern Luzon were hit by Typhoons Quinta and Rolly, and a few days before Typhoon Ulysses, a Category 4 typhoon, made its landfall and caused the worst flooding Luzon had ever seen since 2009.

And yet the onslaught of multiple typhoons this year in the country are just a preview of how the worsening climate crisis looks, and how much more shocking and devastating these calamities are bound to get. The worst part is that without mitigating measures against the impact of climate- and weather-related disasters, it’s the poorest and most vulnerable communities that remain right at the crosshairs of concurrent and consecutive disasters.

“The frequency and intensity of climatological events are increasing substantially, with more Category 4 and 5 storms, more heatwaves breaking temperature records, and more heavy rains, among other extremes,” says the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in their report released November 17.

Eighty-three percent of all disasters triggered by natural hazards in the last 10 years were caused by worsening weather- and climate-related events. This is a 7 percent increase from the proportions in the 2000s. This makes the role of global warming in driving the frequency and impact of disasters clearer than ever; it will require action in order to preserve natural resources, ensure food security, reinforce public health, and avoid the risk of displacement for vulnerable families.

The socioeconomic standing of millions of Filipinos serves as coefficient in the impact of disasters. Over the past decade, around 1.7 billion people have been affected by worsening climatological events around the world. On top of that, at least 410,000 people have died, mostly from low- to middle-income countries such as ours.

This is because while global warming already compounds the chances of temperatures rising, ecosystems deteriorating, and weather conditions getting exacerbated globally, it also comes at a staggering humanitarian cost that may no longer be addressed by postdisaster foreign aids alone.

According to IFRC, “as the needs in traditional donor nations also grow, including for enhanced social protection to address climate impacts there, we can expect a drop in the funds available for international assistance, meaning there will be nowhere near enough to meet the rising needs.”

Life-saving infrastructures and life-sustaining assets like agricultural goods become casualties in the aftermath of disasters, effectively robbing people of important social services as well as hiking prices of commodities.

“Unless,” the IFRC said, “we start to do more about it. Now.”

The bitter truth about climate change is that many of the predictions we were given in the past got their dates wrong. The cataclysmic effects we were warned of do not merely exist in the distant future; according to the World Economic Forum, climate change has been “striking harder and more rapidly than many expected.” Apocalyptic flooding, record-breaking heat indexes, and shifts in global temperature are already underway — with many of us caught off guard.

However, while climatological events have evolved into crises, it depends on a country or community’s preparedness whether they will turn into disasters.

“We cannot wait for disasters to happen and expect communities themselves to pick up the pieces, as poverty and compounded risks will make this harder and harder,” the authors of the IFRC report wrote. “Nor can we expect that humanitarians will always have the capacity to respond, when they become overwhelmed by compounding and escalating risks.”

The authors highlighted that the concerted efforts of different sectors, including governments and humanitarian groups, are required to significantly reduce the people’s vulnerabilities and exposure to the risks of weather- and climate-related disasters by anticipating, preparing, and responding to their needs.

International cooperation is also necessary so that plans are installed not just parallel to each other but as intersecting nodes that target a global problem. This points to the direction of the biggest greenhouse gas contributors, mostly from more progressive economies, to cut down on their emissions and pay remuneration by leading radical changes in climate action. It also points to low- to middle-income countries such as the Philippines to buckle up through disaster risk reduction and management and by declaring a climate emergency in order to flag the urgency of the situation.

If Filipinos should have learned something from the recent typhoons in the Philippines, it is that postdisaster relief goods from politicians masquerading as messiahs should no longer cut it. The national government must ensure the immediate allocation of funds for research, equipment, and technologies to reduce and manage risk disasters posed on people.

More importantly, local governments should utilize their disaster risk and reduction management funds effectively. In this way, resilience can be built not by people alone but alongside a government that purposely supports and enhances its citizen’s capabilities. Until then, there will be more Shirley Tapels carrying the burden of saving themselves and their families from disasters that could have otherwise been avoided with sheer foresight from effective leaders.

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