Father Antonio Labiao, executive director of Caritas Philippines, says it’s only by working together that we can avert catastrophic climate disasters in the Philippines following devastating typhoons.
In early November, we were hit by four typhoons in the Philippines, one after the other. I grew up in Mindanao and there were no typhoons when I was a child. Now, not only can they strike any time of the year but they’re getting more and more frequent and powerful and they strike every year.
Goni (or Rolly, as it was called in the Philippines) was the most powerful typhoon to hit us. It was a category 5 super typhoon, the most powerful typhoon to hit the Philippines in twenty years. Over 350,000 people had to be evacuated from their homes and 4.8 million individuals were affected.
Typhoon Vamco (Ulysses), which came afterwards, also had a massive impact, affecting almost 4 million people in Luzon and killing over 70.
The torrential rains, howling winds and rivers of mud have brought chaos and destruction to a number of parts of the Philippines. Floods cut off towns and villages, landslides swept away homes and infrastructure and so many people had to seek shelter and help.
Caritas puts a lot of work into preparing communities for these extreme weather events by working with local government, monitoring the weather and setting up alert systems. We work in local communities to build their capacity and their structures to respond to and protect themselves against the typhoons. This has led to a big improvement in helping keep people safe.
Caritas has been helping 15,320 families (76,598 individuals) in a number of provinces in the following ways: provision of food baskets, hygiene kits, solar lamps, kitchen materials, sleeping kits, and water. In the long-term we will be constructing permanent shelters, offering livelihood support and emergency preparedness and response capacity building activities.
The dedication of our thousands volunteers across the country during this major emergency has been very moving. Even the volunteers whose homes have been destroyed have continued to help their communities. There has also been a lot of solidarity at the national level and dioceses are sharing what they have with more-affected dioceses.
We empower our volunteer by teaching them how to manage operations and to support each other in what are often very challenging situations. As major disasters and pandemics take an enormous toll on the people living through them, we provide a psychosocial care programme to help volunteers manage their mental health.
The COVID-19 pandemic is at the forefront of our minds as we deal with these climate emergencies. We always remind volunteers to keep healthy and to follow COVID protocols such as mask wearing, hand gelling and social distancing.
The pandemic has made our work harder as it’s complicated travelling from Manila to the provinces as transport infrastructure has been damaged. There are stringent protocols that we have to abide by. We work in partnership with local government and the police force when we have to travel to grassroots Caritas organisations in other parts of the country.
The situation in the Philippines is very serious. Every year the typhoons are getting stronger and the impact is getting greater. We can’t just keep scaling up our emergency response every year as these weather events damage more and more lives.
We need to address the real cause of these calamities – climate change, the degradation of our mountains, illegal logging, quarrying and unsustainable farming practices. This is not just the work of government, but of the Church and of everyone.
Caritas Philippines (NASSA) does advocacy on mining, quarrying and illegal logging. All of these issues have a confluence and are provoking more and more deforestation. We have to make our voices louder to ensure that people understand how our actions are impacting the environment and impacting the poor.
Our vision must reach beyond emergency response. When we talk about preventing climate change, we can’t just do this alone in the Philippines, we need the help of the global community. It’s only by working together that we make sure future generations are safe.