Al Gore visits Yolanda’s ground zero

The Philippine Star

TACLOBAN, Philippines – Climate change activist and former US vice president Al Gore made a surprise visit yesterday in this city to meet the victims of Super Typhoon Yolanda, one of the strongest storms on record.

Gore was accompanied by Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate committee on climate change. They were welcomed at the airport by Mayor Alfred Romualdez.                  

Gore, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, lit candles and offered a wreath at a mass grave in Barangay Basper where around 2,000 typhoon victims were buried, a picture tweeted by Climate Reality showed.

The US non-government organization is holding a seminar on climate change adaptation in Manila next week, where Gore is scheduled to speak. He is known for his documentary “Inconvenient Truth” that focuses on global warming.

Gore also visited Barangay San Jose, one of the areas ravaged by the huge storm surges generated by Yolanda. In this seaside village, he met 51-year-old survivor Demetria Raya, whose story Gore had read in the news days following the typhoon.

The mother of three said the village near Tacloban airport was where her home once stood before it was wiped out by the storm.

“He asked if I want to rebuild my house here. I said no. This place reminds me of my ordeal, how the waves washed away everything,” said Raya, who now lives in a temporary shelter several kilometers away.

Gore then went to the M/V Eva Jocelyn marker at Anibong district. The ship became the symbol of the devastation as the vessel was washed ashore by huge waves, destroying hundreds of houses.

More than two years after Yolanda struck, Tacloban and surrounding areas have yet to recover, with many living in shanty towns without running water and electricity. Survivors often still bear emotional scars.

Yolanda swept through central islands of the Philippines in November 2013, with giant waves wiping out entire communities and leaving 7,500 people dead or missing.

Since the disaster, high-profile personalities including Pope Francis and French President Francois Hollande visited Tacloban to call attention to the effects of climate change.

Experts are studying the link between climate change and the increasing strength of storms battering the nation.

Meanwhile, the Climate Change Commission (CCC) has begun its year-long program to promote climate change adaptation and mitigation in major river basin communities across the country.  

CCC launched the pilot Communities for Resilience (CORE) Convergence Forum in Davao City on March 10 and 11, which was participated by stakeholders from communities around the Tagum-Libuganon River Basin.

The program, which will be conducted in 17 other major river basin communities in the country, aims to promote understanding of climate change and disaster risk in the grassroots level. 

“Combining all the important aspects of the climate change adaptation and mitigation projects and the disaster risk reduction and management programs of the present government will lead to a more coherent, holistic, substantial and meaningful approach and strategies to significantly lessen the risks linked to climate change and to the geophysical hazards many communities are exposed to daily,” CCC secretary Emmanuel de Guzman said in a statement. 

He stressed the need for communities to prepare for possible disasters as the country has become a  poster boy for climate change vulnerability. 

“We need to act decisively and collectively now. Failure to appropriately prepare for and implement the much needed programs and projects on the combined climate change adaptation and mitigation projects and the disaster risk reduction and management programs may lead to more devastating disasters in the country. Simply, we cannot afford to lose more lives and incur bigger socio-economic losses,” he added. 

Citing data from the World Bank, CCC said the annual natural calamities and hazards cost the country five percent of its yearly gross domestic product.

For instance, losses and damage from Typhoon Yolanda were placed at $15 billion or roughly P650 billion.

CCC said the CORE program would strengthen the technical knowledge and capacity of local government units in developing their respective Local Climate Change Action Plan through a series of consultations and training.

The agency said they will also help facilitate access of grassroots communities, LGUs, and people’s organizations to the People Survival Fund in order to support their respective climate change adaptation and mitigation programs.

The CORE Convergence Forum will also be conducted in other major river basin communities, including in Pasig-Laguna, Pampanga, Agno, Abra, Cagayan, Agusan, Mindanao, Ilog-Hilabangan, Tagoloan, Cagayan de Oro, Ranao (Agus), Davao, Buayan-Malungon, Bicol, Panay, Jalaur and Apayao-Abulug.

The 18 major river basins are identified as key priority areas by the Cabinet Cluster for Adaptation and Mitigation, according to CCC. – Lalaine Jimenea, Janvic Mateo

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