ASIA/PHILIPPINES - Ten years after typhoon Yolanda, commemoration, prayer and a warning for climate change

Wednesday, 8 November 2023 human rights   natural catastrophe   environment   climate changes  

IOM, Creative Commons

Borongan (Agenzia Fides) - Ten years after tropical cyclone Yolanda (or Typhoon Haiyan) which devastated the east and central Philippines on November 8, 2013, killing more than 7,000 people and affecting more than 16 million people in nine regions, the Catholic community in the country remembers the victims and launches a warning on the importance of taking preventive action against climate change in order to prevent such phenomena from causing human and humanitarian disasters, as happened with Yolanda. The Catholic Church invited people to remember the thousands of people who died in one of the strongest storms in history. The Diocese of Borongan in the eastern part of the island of Samar - which was one of the worst affected islands - invited the faithful to a memorial vigil and a national prayer. "We pray for the eternal repose of the victims and that the Lord gives comfort and strength to their families. May their memory remind us of the preciousness of life and the urgency of caring for our brothers and sisters and our 'common home', as stated in the encyclical Laudato Sì", wrote the Bishop of Borongan, Monsignor Crispin Varquez, in a letter distributed to all communities. The Bishop thanked the humanitarian organizations, volunteers and people who have committed themselves to providing assistance and renewed his appeal to the civil authorities to do more to support the reconstruction. Ten years after the disaster, many people are still dealing with the aftermath of the typhoon, "they are committed to rebuilding their homes, their livelihoods and their lives," and therefore "the road to full recovery is not yet complete," said Bishop Varquez, recalling the commitment of the local Church: "As a diocese, we have increased our efforts to support and accompany those who still find themselves in a precarious situation. We offer our time, our resources and our expertise available to help our brothers and sisters recover and rebuild their lives." Although it was a time of "great pain, loss and devastation," continued the Bishop of Borongan, "it was also a time when our bonds of solidarity and faith were tested and strengthened. I would like to remember the countless acts of heroism and selflessness that emerged admidst the devastation." "We have experienced the power of prayer and the resilience of the human spirit. We have experienced the generosity of our brothers and sisters around the world who have helped us in our time of need," he continued. The Bishop called on the country's citizens and authorities to take a responsible path: "Climate change is a major threat to our planet and especially to its most vulnerable inhabitants. We must adopt sustainable practices and support policies that protect the environment and justice for all". In this sense, the Catholic community, together with various civil society groups, will take part in the so-called "Jericho March" on November 29th and 30th in Guiuan, a city on the island of Samar, to draw attention to the irresponsible practices in mining, which damages the territory of the island and thus endangers the future life of the population. Samar is one of the islands hardest hit by Yolanda, which recorded winds of up to 315 kilometers per hour and unleashed tsunami-like waves. On the island of Leyte, next to Samar, in Tacloban, capital of the province of Leyte, almost completely destroyed by the storms ten years ago, the President of the Philippines Ferdinand Marcos Jr. also took part in a mass and memorial service at the Congress Center, which has been hosting displaced people for months. Tacloban residents placed lit candles along city streets as a sign to remember the victims.
Philippine Vice President Sara Duterte, speaking on behalf of the civil authorities, said: "In memory of the dead, we should unite in solidarity and recommit ourselves to creating a safer and more resilient future thanks to sustainable development." She called on citizens to learn from the lessons of the past and stressed the need to invest in resilient infrastructure, early warning systems and training to deal with natural disasters. "Typhoon Yolanda left an indelible mark on our hearts, but it also demonstrated the extraordinary resilience and strength of those affected. Amid the unimaginable destruction, we witnessed the unwavering spirit of Filipinos who overcame the calamity and regained their lives with determination and courage," she added. The Humanitarian Country Team (HCT), an ad hoc body, which contributed to coordinating the assistance provided by national and international bodies, proved decisive in the short and long term. In an assessment of the relief efforts organized after Typhoon Yolanda, HCT reported around 3.7 million people with food, 1.9 million people with hygiene kits, more than 1.4 million people with cash and drinking water and around 570,000 families with emergency shelter were supplied. In addition, education and schooling were guaranteed for over 545,000 children, short-term employment opportunities were created for over 152,000 people to support their families, and 103,000 farmers and 24,000 fishermen received support to restore their livelihoods. The team coordinated the operations of UN organizations (such as UNICEF, UNHCR, FAO, WFP), other international organizations such as WHO and numerous NGOs. After the short-term measures, the HCT continued its support in the following years, also working in the area of prevention, "with a forward-looking approach that requires strong collaboration between organizations to implement long-term strategies." In this spirit, the HCT is also participating in the three-year "Enhancing Resilient Communities (ERC)" initiative, which aims to encourage local communities to participate in achieving common goals when it comes to better preparing for future climate change scenarios. It is urgently necessary for public and private actors to jointly commit to investing in disaster prevention and innovative solutions. "With climate change exacerbating extreme weather events, inclusion and sustainability must be prioritized, especially for the most vulnerable populations, so that no one is left behind in disaster response and recovery", HCT said. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 8/11/2023)