COP26: How dealing with tropical cyclones is part of life in Philippines

Dealing with tropical cyclones has become a part of the life of Armando Corañez.

He lives in the coastal town of Tiwi in the Philippines, which is regularly exposed to a variety of disasters, including typhoons.

As a resident of Albay province, Corañez is no stranger to violent winds, torrential rains, dangerous mudflows and storm surges. But the onslaught of Super Typhoon Goni, known locally as Rolly, was unlike anything the 51-year-old secretary of a village council had ever encountered.

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The wreckage caused by Super Typhoon Goni. Picture: Bill Bontigao

On the morning of November 1 last year, Goni made a second landfall in Corañez’s hometown after barrelling through the island province of Catanduanes.

The category-five typhoon became the strongest landfalling tropical cyclone on record by one-minute average winds, with peak winds of 315 kilometres per hour.

“Goni was really, really strong, it cannot be compared to any other storms that we had experienced before,” says Corañez.

Around two million people were in the path of the storm that left at least 25 people killed and 400 others injured.

Gaea Katreena Cabico

More intense

Before Goni carved a trail of devastation, Typhoon Molave lashed the same province, giving residents little to no time to recover and prepare. Then a week after Goni, Typhoon Vamco crossed the populous island of Luzon and triggered severe flooding events.

The Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,600 islands, is located along the typhoon belt in the Pacific, making tropical cyclones common occurrences.

On average, the country is visited by 20 storms a year. These often wipe out harvests and destroy homes and infrastructure.

Climate change is aggravating exposure of the Philippines to climate shocks, subjecting the country to more intense and more frequent cyclones.

According to the Global Climate Risk Index of environment think-tank Germanwatch, the Philippines is fourth on the list of countries most impacted by climate change-induced catastrophes in the past 20 years.

Community preparedness

Corañez felt relieved his house withstood Goni’s destructive winds and there were no fatalities in his village during the typhoon’s onslaught. The relatively low death toll compared with previous storms could indicate improvements in the country’s disaster response.

Mark Timbal, spokesperson of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, said the preparedness of localities has been improved through community-based disaster risk reduction and management, and hazard mapping.

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As late-season West Pacific typhoons begin to hit the Philippines, Corañez said fear will always be there. But he said his community is prepared for a cyclone as strong as Goni – or even stronger.

Concrete action

A year since he hunkered down at his aunt’s home to escape the wrath of Goni, young climate activist Bill Bontigao remains hopeful there is a “better normal”. But people must work hand in hand to achieve it.

Ahead of COP26, Bontigao called on world leaders to act more forcefully against climate change.

“I’m hoping that this time, we invest less in talking and more on real and immediate climate action,” he said. “Do what needs to be done.”

Bontigao, like many climate activists hampered by travel restrictions and lack of access to vaccines, will not be going to Glasgow. But this doesn’t mean that he’ll be silenced.

“You should not feel intimidated, but rather empowered, for we are the future, and it’s our right to demand and protect ourselves,” he said.

- Gaea Katreena Cabico is a journalist based in the Philippines. She is a reporter at Philstar News, were she writes stories about the climate crisis and environmental issues. This article is part of The Scotsman and Earth Journalism Network partnership – set up by global non-profit organisation Internews.