Super Typhoon Odette: Time to (Climate) Change



I had planned to write a feel-good column today, tomorrow being Christmas Day. I thought of writing about the struggle and success of the farming families of the People’s Organization of Disaster Survivors or PODIS in Canaman, Camarines Sur, in their battle against forced displacement and marginalization after Typhoon Niña ravaged their communities on Dec. 25, 2016. Their collective effort was a quick respite and source of inspiration from the usual tell-all problems and issues, irresponsive government, and public apathy. Once organized, the officers and members realize the power of a unified vision and collective action to achieve success. The construction of their Green training and livelihood center, which officially began last December 20, would have capped the story.


But Odette came, and the entire narrative quickly changed in one fell swoop. Just as the country was beginning to experience a temporary respite from the surge of COVID-19 cases, here comes another cause for alarm. In Western Visayas, Northern and Western Mindanao, and parts of Central Luzon, the alarm was not simply the Omicron variant. Super Typhoon Odette (codenamed Rai) packing 200 kph of gusty winds whose rage and fury unleashed last December 16 threatened to become a vast carnage. In Odette’ss wake, deaths due to dehydration, hunger, and food shortages were reported in all evacuation centers that cry for urgent and fast action. Boholanos in Metro Manila (BAMMI) and BarugBohol have already gotten in touch with Tabang Bikol Movement for help. Connecting is the best thing to happen for solidarity and exchange.


Both Odette and Niña came in December. Odette and Niña (codenamed Nock-ten) are two of the most destructive typhoons that ever hit the country outside of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). Niña was the unforgettable Christmas Day supertyphoon that heavily damaged Camarines Sur and other parts of Bicol in 2016. Supertyphoon Odette, according to the NDRRMC, ravaged 11 provinces – Surigao del Norte, Agusan del Norte, Dinagat Islands, Lanao del Sur in Mindanao; Cebu, Bohol, Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, Southern Leyte and Iloilo; and Palawan island in Luzon -- last Dec. 16. Ironically, Odette spared Bicol.


Odette turned out to be of a vast and wider scale sweeping across Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. LGUs in all these areas have asked for emergency rescue efforts as they push to declare their areas under a state of calamity, with millions of people displaced and supplies getting scarce by the day, according to the PNRC. Odette’s story as of this writing is still unfolding with a Low-Pressure Area (LPA) over the Pacific expected to enter the Philippine Area of Responsibility on Christmas Eve. If this happens, humanitarian aid relief drives can slow down the delivery goods for long-term sustenance and cause a shortage of this valuable life-support system.


What’s in a name? Call the super typhoon by any other name, the impact on the people is just as destructive. Niña in 2016 cost thousands of lives, damaged houses, schools, farms, and other property in billions of pesos. Rolly in 2020 was equally devastating in Catanduanes. Add these typhoons to the high-risk COVID-19 and earthquakes for a triple whammy. In hindsight, as new storms come, the destruction of property becomes more widespread, and lives lost could surpass the scale of Yolanda. Yolanda in 2013 was the strongest typhoon ever to make a landfall that left 7,300 dead and missing. Odette, however, may surpass Yolanda in terms of the magnitude of destruction.


The Pandemic has already created a culture of emergency and fear in people’s lives. Last year was the busiest for Tabang Bikol Movement. The movement ventured to inquire, intervene and interject at every urgent concern of the affected disaster survivors – from the snail-pace delivery of the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) to error-prone listing of supposed relief beneficiaries and reports of corruption.


Volunteers get used to disaster response in emergencies at every unexpected time through relief drives, relief, and rescue operations. In the first year of the pandemic, the country experienced 22 tropical cyclones, seven of them in Bicol. Thus it is a never-ending cycle of destruction, disaster preparedness, risk reduction, and mitigation. Bicol is yet to bounce back to the pre-pandemic condition of normalcy or new normal or a little of it. Fortunate are the communities where the LGUs quickly respond to the people’s woes and needs. When there is none to approach for this mandated help, the volunteers render their service for free each time constantly on their toes.


In the past 15 years, typhoons that strike at the last quarter of the year have been more vicious and devastating and Bicol is not spared. Scientists have long warned that typhoons are becoming more powerful and stronger as the world increasingly becomes warmer – all due to human-induced climate change like illegal logging, forest denudation, mining and quarrying. We live in a disaster-prone environment. The root of the problem, including the rapid intensification and frequency of typhoons, is climate change. This is evident with Odette, which quickly intensified from category 1 to 5 typhoon in just one day! This poses greater problems in preparing the people to evacuate when storms behave more and more like Odette.


The best preparedness, therefore, is to address climate change at its roots. It’s time to change. It is time to take seriously the various studies here and abroad that climate change is causing typhoons to intensify increasingly to humanitarian proportions. This cries for more significant intervention to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change.


GermanWatch, in its Global Climate Risk Index 2020 report, revealed that the Philippines ranked fourth out of 180 countries most affected by extreme weather -- climate hazards like typhoons, floodings, landslides, and droughts -- in the last two decades. TBM believes that the commitment to fight climate change and strengthen communities and peoples for adaptive and resilient communities across the archipelago should start with the national government’s clear policy and political will.


The national elections can provide a platform for this change – not about traditional politicos who try to outwit each other by flying to every nook and corner of the devastated areas to turn relief goods into votes and gain media leverage. Who got in first, who spoke first and who gave the most contributions – which are anyway sourced from taxpayers’ money? Paying lip service to change is like an empty promise. It is practice, track record, and accomplishments in good governance that count most for real change to happen. Support to every family should be year-all round and not just during elections!