Climate crisis in the Philippines

BY: Allison Kitchen

It is no secret that global warming is becoming a serious and irreversible danger to our planet. We all know about the melting ice caps, rising sea levels, and spiking global temperatures. However, living in a prosperous country, sheltered from many of the major effects of anthropogenic climate change, it can often feel as though this issue does not affect us personally, making it easy to forget the menace it poses to communities around the globe. Rising ocean waters, as well as natural disasters such as hurricanes and typhoons, pose serious threats to poverty-stricken coastal communities, particularly those in Southeast Asia.

In the Philippines, where forty percent of the population lives well below the poverty line, over sixty-four million people inhabit the islands’ combined twenty-two thousand miles of coastline. This accounts for over sixty percent of the nation’s total population, rendering the already poor country extremely vulnerable to floods and other natural disasters. In 2020 alone, the Philippines has already faced six deadly typhoons. In early November, typhoon Goni struck, killing over twenty people, including several young children; washing away over three hundred homes; and burying entire villages in mudslides. Just a week later, the country was ravaged once again, this time by typhoon Vamco, which, so far, has killed over sixty people and destroyed the homes of over 70,000.

Most of the families, individuals, and communities suffering from the damage of these natural disasters do not have the money or resources to make a full recovery. As many of them were struggling to get by to begin with, rebuilding their homes and lives in the aftermath of the typhoons is next to impossible. To make matters worse, the typhoons are also destroying the country’s farmland. Typhoon Goni destroyed over forty-two thousand acres of valuable cropland which has the potential to cause a nation-wide famine, leaving millions without food. 

In addition to typhoons, the rapidly rising sea levels, caused by an increase in global temperature and melting ice caps, are threatening to completely submerge many areas of the Philippines’ coastline. Many of the poorest communities in the Philippines are fishing villages along the coast which are highly vulnerable to any increase in sea level, as it can cause astronomical amounts of flood damage. If the ocean continues to rise over the next few years, there is a serious possibility that many of these villages will be wiped out for good, leaving thousands of families homeless and with no means of survival.

Already this year, an estimated 1.9 million Filipino citizens have been rendered homeless by the country’s numerous natural disasters. Many of these are families looking after young children or elderly relatives. Now they are left to live in makeshift shelters with no source of income and a shortage of food and clean water. With many of their villages having been completely destroyed by storms, floods, or mudslides, they have little hope of being able to get back on their feet. On top of these hardships, they are forced to live in close quarters in unsanitary conditions, which puts them at risk to become infected with the coronavirus. The virus is affecting the Philippines’ population at record rates ever since the last two typhoons, posing a particularly dangerous threat to evacuees who cannot self-isolate and who do not have the funds to afford proper health care. In the words of the Philippine Red Cross chairman, Richard Gordon, "These non-stop storms are slamming our communities during a deadly pandemic, making this one of the most complicated disaster responses ever.”

Although typhoons and floods have always been a threat to the Philippines, in recent years they have become increasingly prevalent and significantly more dangerous. It is estimated that for every two degree celsius increase in global temperatures, the intensity of tropical storms increases up to ten percent. What was once part of a natural weather cycle in the Philippines has now become a chain of massive, increasingly deadly disasters that threaten the lives and welfare of millions of people.

In order to see long-term improvement in safety of impoverished coastal communities such as those in the Philippines, it is essential that we focus on slowing the progression of anthropogenic, or “human-caused,” climate change. This can be done on a large scale, such as advocating for better environmental policies and restrictions on air pollution, as well as on a small scale, such as paying attention to our energy consumption. Although many of the effects of global warming may prove to be irreversible, taking action now will help to prevent any further damage to our planet and may help to save thousands of communities from being washed into the sea or destroyed by typhoons and hurricanes. 

Unfortunately, it may take decades before we can see any real improvement in the state of the environment or any decrease in the frequency or intensity of tropical storms. In the meantime, consider donating to disaster relief charities such as the American Red Cross which is currently working to provide relief materials such as first-aid kits and cooking equipment to those displaced by typhoons Goni and Vamco. Most importantly, stay educated on global issues and be aware of the impact that your actions and decisions have, not only on the planet, but also vulnerable communities all around the world.