It has been three weeks since typhoon Yolanda or Haiyan hit the eastern part of the Philippines quite hard that left nothing but debris to once thriving city of Tacloban and nearby areas. This was an unimagined and unexpected result of sometimes more than 300 kph winds that sent even concrete houses to ruins. Imagine the devastation that a car can do if lifted by the winds or water and hurled at that speed against a concrete wall. Storm surge, a rise in sea level above the usual tide level as intense storm moves over water, left many without homes to live on once the storm has passed and inflicted its fury.
Despite disaster mitigating preparations to frequently typhoon visited places of eastern Philippines, typhoon Yolanda proved to be an exceptional one. Some evacuation centers in raised areas did not serve their intended purposes because these were also ravaged by the strong winds and 10-foot waves. Lives were lost and much agony and chaos transpired at the aftermath.
Typhoon Yolanda Due to Climate Change?
Is this unfortunate event a result of climate change? There were reports from various sources saying with apparent confidence that typhoon Yolanda or Haiyan is a result of climate change. But is this really a well founded statement?
For a scientist or a discerning person, a pronouncement like this is not easy. There should be an empirical investigation and evaluation of data to make such conclusion. An examination of historical records will reveal important information that will cause one to pause and think, if indeed, the typhoon is unusually strong due to changes brought about by global climate change.
If we evaluate the records of typhoons that crossed the Philippines in the past, there actually were typhoons of similar magnitude as Yolanda or Haiyan. In a Yahoo news story, two typhoons approximate the same damage . One was recorded in January 12, 1898 and another in 1912. According to estimates, the former typhoon left 400 Europeans dead and 6,000 natives while the latter killed or wounded 12,000 people. The latter typhoon hit similar areas, i.e., the provinces of Leyte and Capiz.
Yardstick for Comparison
Apparently, these data suggest that past typhoons similar to Yolanda or Haiyan already crossed the affected areas. Typhoons of such magnitude come in cycles. They tend to repeat through time. If such is the case, then there’s no reason that the current onslaught can be fully attributed to the effects of climate change; apparently has become much more pronounced during the past two decades.
On the other hand, these reports alone may not be sufficient evidence to compare typhoon impact in the areas mentioned. Similar parameters should be used, meaning, all conditions during typhoon impact should be the same. A great difference exists in many respects. Some of those related to the number of casualties are listed below:
- disaster preparedness of the people
- accuracy of inventory and reports
- human population of the stricken areas
- timeliness of rescue, assistance and relief
- technological (especially communications) capability
While climate change is a convenient excuse for the great damage inflicted by supertyphoon Yolanda or Haiyan, the message of the unfortunate event is clear: Be always on guard. Whether the typhoon is due to climate change or not, warnings of an unusual event should not be taken lightly. Experience is not the only sole basis for readiness.
© 2013 November 28 P. A. Regoniel