There are no natural disasters, only natural hazards. Truth be told, disasters are in part— a result of human intervention or response. Disasters are tragedies which can be owed to political and economic failure.
Such is the case of the Philippines even a year after Haiyan (locally known as Yolanda). The aftermath of the aftermath is one of the ultimate concerns for the thousands displaced. With winds of up to 195 miles per hour, the previously solid structures were wiped out leaving thousands of corpses strewn about in every area—high or low. This image of devastation continues to haunt many as seen in the faces of people who are still suffering from diseases, hunger and injuries. The threat of preventable death is still hanging over the heads of many due to the painstakingly slow delivery of aid and/or relief and implementation of the rehabilitation plan by the national and local governments.
The Real Tragedy: Disaster Capitalism?
2014 marks the one-year anniversary of the destruction Haiyan left in its wake. One unnerving detail that has not changed is that the damage from before up until now remains. People who have struggled before are still struggling today in order to recover. The only noticeable difference (albeit morbid) is that the number of candles lit row upon row of crosses at the mass grave last All Souls’ Day has increased and along with it is the staggeringly high number of people still trying to pull through.
The current administration has denied before the high death toll and even requested media to retract the high number of deaths but as days and weeks went on the numbers became staggeringly high. Haiyan claimed over a thousand lives and left nothing but desperation. Such desperation which came from the slow delivery of aid had resulted in panic among the victims. Looting became prevalent and was even used as a justification for militarizing the Eastern Visayas (Samar and Leyte to be specific). Many explain that looting was a result of the desperation felt by the victims who were getting no aid at all.
But the real question is—who are the real looters in this appalling scenario? Such situations often become the perfect excuse for the government to introduce violent or militarized interventions, such as in the case of the Philippines where the current administration had hinted to declaring Martial Law which wasn’t actually applicable to the ‘chaotic’ situation then. The then presidential assistant for rehabilitation and recovery or rehabilitation czar for short—former senator Panfilo Lacson had mentioned partnering with the private sector as they deemed it to be more ‘efficient’ as opposed to the government’s bureaucratic red tape. But then again, there is something inherently wrong with this thinking. Another question is raised: can’t the government do its work and be efficient about it? Tapping the private sectors only opens up more (exciting market) opportunities to displace the victims who happen to have no clearly defined territories or land titles.
Considering all of these now, another important question would also come to mind. For whose interests will this reconstruction or rehabilitation take place? After the disaster, who gets to take over? People have to be vigilant about the political economy of reconstruction. Crises like these often become the perfect excuse for private institutions or the most powerful families (be it in politics or business) to control the collective responses of people—looting for instance in this case—to advance their own goals.
The Real Cost of Climate Change
At present, the Philippines has been reported by the environmental think-tank German Watch as the number 1 country affected by climate change in 2013. It cannot be denied that there are of course, man-made factors which have aggravated the undeniable effects of climate change. The effects of the disasters the Philippines is experiencing are clearly intensified due to the inefficient political and economic handling of preparing for such disasters. Thus, it is safe to say that aside from poverty which resulted to the inadequate and poor construction of infrastructures/homes, this tragedy can also be traced back to the country’s capitalist elites which have more access to the resources or more specifically locations—‘Green Zones’ as coined by Naomi Klein—which can protect them from natural hazards.
Even Philippines’ climate negotiator Naderev “Yeb” Saño had mentioned in the 19th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP19) that he shall go on a hunger strike unless the industries and countries responsible for contributing to the greenhouse gas pollution would also implement or put into action the plans they have made in order to mitigate climate change. The same call for seriousness in mitigating climate change applies to the Philippine government as well.
As it is, even Pope Francis who is set to arrive in the Philippines this January 15, 2015 is expected to have a ‘strong statement’ concerning climate change. The Pope’s visit is not only to express sympathy for disaster victims but more importantly, many are expecting that his encyclical will serve as a wake-up call for all people to help in the protection and preservation of the environment.
The burden of rebuilding is heavy—not only for the government but most importantly for the victims themselves. Therefore, instead of only partnering with private entities, the government should also coordinate efforts with the humanitarian, civil society and other aid groups/organizations and the survivors in particular, for it is their lives and their future that they are trying to regain. More than a year has passed since the Haiyan disaster and as it stands, the damage remains.