Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda has put the Philippines in the limelight. Many volunteers of various nationalities came by teams as if there was a United Nation convention. The Americans came first (as usual), followed by the Canadians, Koreans, Japanese and Israelis. Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, the European Commission, UN, UK, Australia, New Zealand, China, The Vatican and others just sent their aid. As if the aid was not enough, the song "We Are The World" which was originally composed for the famine-ravaged Africa 2008 years ago was rehashed to put a theme in this multi-national relief operations.
But why was this response so global in scope when in fact the losses in previous calamities in other countries were far greater in terms of number of lives and value of properties? I think the response was caused by at least four major factors as follows:
I. The rising number of victims
Thousands were killed by ST Haiyan/Yolanda and the extent of losses was well covered by international TV networks. The statistics for the deaths and damages are large enough to get the attention of the whole world. The counting has stopped at 4,100+ dead but the figure will rise as more bodies are retrieved. Also, many survivors may expire due to serious injuries or diseases. Only time will tell how many perished and how many survived.
II. Foreigners were among the victims
Many foreigners are married to Filipino women and have settled in the Philippines. American war veterans and pensioners alone are plenty hence, the US immediate response. No less than 5,000 US Marines came to personally deliver relief because they have learned their lesson from the Typhoon Frank which drowned the entire Panay Island in 2007. The survivors were victimized twice because of anomalies in the distribution of relief goods. My previous article has elaborated this point. Anyways, the thing is that a number of countries responded for the sake of their compatriots.
III. The strength of the storm
Super Typhoon Haiyan was 600 kilometers wide and it had sustained winds of 250 kilometer per hour (kph). These facts made Hurricane Katrina puny because the latter's wind was only 135 kph. Those who understood the power of a 250 kph wind velocity prepared and became ready for action. The US, with all its modern weather monitoring system, knew Haiyan was definitely going to land on the Philippines and which provinces would hit. This explains why it was able to deploy its aircraft carrier loaded with choppers, planes, food, medicines, soldiers, etc. as soon as the weather permitted. Haiyan landed on Nov 8 (Friday) and by Tuesday, the US contingents were already in Leyte.
IV. The need to drum up the message on climate change
There are two schools of thought on climate change caused by global warming. One group is saying that it is real and worsening over time. The other group says that climate change is a myth because famine, storms, ice melting and floods have also happened thousands of years ago. Periods of extreme heat/cold and bearable heat/cold happen in cycles. More of their arguments can be read in www.accuweather.com/en/weather-blogs/climatechange/are-storms-getting-st....
Between the two schools of thought, it appears that the UN has sided with the belief that the world is getting hotter, that the Polar ice is melting resulting to higher seawater level, that more lands are sinking, and that storms are getting stronger. Thus it has been supporting programs first on global warming back in the 1980s, later on climate change (CC) and disaster risk reduction (DRR). Before the Nov 9th Haiyan event, the UN has organized its 19th Framework Convention on Climate Change in Warsaw, Poland for Nov 14, 2013. This move signals the determination of international governments to pursue mitigating strategies along CC/DRR.
There are many ways to say "Hey, World! See how climate change can wipe out thousands of people in one day! See how many battalions of volunteers and millions of dollars are spent for relief alone! Stop, reflect and chart your life to reduce the impact of climate change." In the case of ST Haiyan/Yolanda, the pouring in of responses is one way to declare this message. Sad to say, the place had to be my country and the sample population had to be my people. But if great things would arise from this sad event, then that would be consolation for those who survived.