CAFOD Director Chris Bain visited the Philippines shortly after it was hit by Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful storms ever recorded. Two years on, he reflects on what has been achieved.
When I flew into the Philippines a few weeks after Typhoon Haiyan, I was shocked by the extent of the damage. The destruction in Tacloban was the worst I’ve ever seen – worse even than after the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004. 170 mph winds and 25-foot waves had destroyed concrete buildings, overturned cars, and drowned thousands of people.
Catholics in England and Wales responded with great compassion to the typhoon, donating an amazing £5.4 million to CAFOD’s appeal. In the first weeks after the disaster, we worked with our Caritas partners to reach thousands of people, providing emergency support including clean water, food, shelter kits, hygiene facilities, and everyday household goods.
Over the longer term, the needs have changed. We have been working to provide more lasting assistance such as shelter and livelihoods and have been looking at how to reduce risks in case of another disaster.
Two years on, it is extremely encouraging to see that the work of the Church has helped so many thousands of people move into stronger homes, and find new ways of making a living. Our thoughts and prayers are with the many local aid workers, diocesan staff and volunteers in the Philippines whose tireless work has helped so many people to rebuild their lives.
As Pope Francis has pointed out, however, countries like the Philippines remain at great risk because of climate change. In Laudato Si’ Pope Francis reminded us that climate change is real, urgent and that it must be tackled. He also described the climate as “a common good, belonging to all and meant for all”.
This message is echoed by people that Caritas is working with. Anita, whose home in Palo was destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan, told a CAFOD staff member: “I will be 100 per cent happy if politicians act to stop climate change. Not just for my benefit, but for future generations.”
Rudolfo, who runs a demonstration farm for Caritas on Iloilo, told us: “My message to world leaders is: listen to our call for survival, and salvage what is left of the environment.”
CAFOD’s ongoing campaign, One Climate, One World, has asked British political leaders to work with other countries to secure an ambitious international deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and to support the transition from polluting fossil fuels to sustainable energy.
We’ve also joined with others from the Philippines and across the world as part of the Global Catholic Climate Movement, and I am pleased to say that over 20,000 Catholics in the United Kingdom have been inspired by Laudato Si’ and by the experience of our brothers and sisters in the Philippines to sign up to the campaign.
Two years on from the typhoon, CAFOD and the Catholic community in England and Wales continue to stand side by side with our friends in the Philippines – and we will continue to campaign for a fairer world.