Another round of United Nations climate talks were being negotiated in Warsaw, Poland, this week when the strongest typhoon recorded to hit land swept across the Philippines before moving on to Vietnam.
Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, has killed an estimated 10,000 people in the area of Tacloban, mostly from the strong tsunami-like storm surges that accompanied the typhoon. Entire villages were flattened and a large rescue effort is underway to evacuate survivors.
There is nothing natural about disasters like this and, sadly, the large number of deaths could have been prevented.
Human-induced climate change had a large part to play in how ferocious the storm was. The World Meteorological Organisation warned that higher sea levels and warming oceans are making tropical cyclones more intense.
The impact and aftermath of this disaster was also made much worse by policies that have systematically transferred wealth from the poor to the rich. When a large storm hits, inadequate housing, underfunded hospitals and no proper evacuation plans makes millions of people vulnerable.
The system is set up to benefit the 1% at the expense of ordinary people, and when disasters like this hit, it becomes clear that capitalism is not meeting the needs of people.
The Party of the Labouring Masses (PLM), a Filipino socialist party, said in a statement on November 11: “The public funds plundered by the elite should have been used for preventative measures to support the people weathering these disasters: for infrastructure, including better sea walls and communication infrastructure; for early warning systems; for well-constructed and therefore safe public housing, to replace huts and shacks built out of dried leaves and cardboard; for health and education; for equipment and personnel for rapid emergency response, and the list is endless.
“But no, this was not the case, it was eaten up by the greed of the elite classes.”
The Australian government has promised $30 million in aid to the Philippines, but sending aid after a disaster on this scale does not compare to taking action to prevent disasters in the first place.
Australia is the world’s largest coal exporter and a rich country that has historically benefited from high carbon emissions. It has a clear responsibility to drastically cut its own emissions and also give financial and scientific aid to help developing nations transition to zero emissions.
At the Warsaw climate talks, the Australian government bucked the practice of the former Labor government and sent a diplomat instead of the environment minister or foreign minister. It was a clear signal from Prime Minister Tony Abbott that his government is not going to even keep up appearances on taking action on climate change.
The PLM said: “The way the rich countries demand debt payments from us, we now demand the payment of their ‘climate debts’, for climate justice and for them to take every necessary measure to cut back their greenhouse gas emission in the shortest time possible.”
People in Australia can join in these calls for justice and demand Australia repays its climate debt.
[The PLM have issued an appeal for donations to help relief efforts. Read the story on page 15 for more coverage of their response to the typhoon. Donations can be sent to: Transform Asia Gender and Labor Institute. Account No. 304-2-304004562. Swift Code: MBTCPHMM. Metrobank, Anonas Branch Aurora Blvd., Project 4. Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines. PayPal donations can be made here. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.]