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It’s been one year since super-Typhoon Haiyan tore through the Philippines, a disaster that devastated thousands of lives and left millions of people homeless. It was the strongest typhoon to make landfall since records began, causing a huge storm surge that ripped through coastal neighbourhoods and agricultural lands, damaging millions of coconut trees, thousands of fishing boats and destroying more than one million tonnes of crops.
The immense devastation left in Haiyan’s path was a wake-up call to the world – yet another deadly warning of what we can expect unless we take the right action on climate change. The next two big international meetings on climate change - in Lima at the end of this year, and in Paris at the end of 2015 - must be a turning point in the level of ambition to fight the biggest crisis of our lifetime.
There are many issues to resolve in the year to come. One of them is money. This month, governments have an opportunity to face up to the real cost of climate change, by pledging generously to the Green Climate Fund (GCF). Discussions about paying the price for climate change have reached a stand-off, in which wealthy countries won't put money on the table until there are clear plans from developing countries for spending that money. With the right level of political will, with a clear understanding of the needs, and with enough money pledged, there is hope for a global climate deal that would ensure all countries take a fair share of the responsibility for climate change.
Nowhere is this more urgent than in Asia - the most disaster-prone region in the world, and home to two-thirds of the world’s most undernourished and food-insecure people. In 2013, 78 percent of people killed by disasters lived in Asia even though only 60 percent of global disasters occurred here. Over the past 20 years, Asia has borne almost half the estimated global economic cost of disasters triggered by natural phenomena, amounting to almost $67 billion USD annually. Harvest losses alone related to flooding in Southeast Asia have an estimated annual value of $1 billion USD. If no action is taken, four countries—Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam—could suffer a loss equivalent to 6.7 percent of GDP annually by 2100, more than double the global average loss, according to the Asian Development Bank. This is an abrupt reversal for many economies across Asia, which has seen an average GDP rate of 6 percent increases every year since 2012.
It’s true that both in the Philippines and across Asia, most governments have policies to reduce the risk of disasters and help people adapt to life in an unsafe climate. But the implementation of those policies is still being hampered by a range of challenges including lack of money, lack of political will and a lack of accurate data on actual risks and vulnerabilities. Without greater investment in climate and disaster-resilient development, the impact of disasters on the scale of Typhoon Haiyan-scale disaster could fast become the norm, not the exception in the region.
Governments and regional institutions in Asia must show leadership in stepping up to the challenge of rising disaster and climate risk. This means increasing political commitment and investing adequate resources - funds, human resources, and program support - in improving local and national capacity to protect communities from the impacts of climate change and disasters. And the international community must dig much deeper to find the necessary funds to mitigate and help countries adapt to climate change.
When Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines last November, the global response was immense and rapid. Thanks to the efforts of the Philippine Government and local and international humanitarian agencies, millions of affected people were reached with life-saving support. Assisted by generous donations from supporters like you, Oxfam’s own response was able to reach almost 900,000 people, by providing clean water and sanitation, addressing immediate shelter needs, and supporting communities to help recover their livelihoods.
The world will always help people pick up the pieces of their ruined lives when disasters have struck. But imagine what we could achieve if we put the same energy and sense of urgency into building peoples' resilience to climate disasters before they happen.
There is no doubt about the scale of the challenge. But we must remain resolute and hopeful. To quote the Philippines ambassador to the UN, Yeb Sano: “Can humanity rise to the occasion? I still believe we can.” Governments meeting in Berlin at the pledging conference for the Green Climate Fund on November 20th should have his words ringing in their ears.