The devastation Typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) left in its wake leaves us no choice but to help in some capacity or another. (See these links to learn about some of the ways you can help.) But when the rubble is cleared and everything is put to working order again, here are some of the things that we need change in society and in ourselves as a response to the wakeup call that is Typhoon Yolanda.
1. We should “do more science”
More storms make landfall on the Philippines than on any other large country on Earth. This one fact demands that the science curriculum in the country should be tailored to produce basic education graduates who understand how tropical storms roll. Knowing how typhoons behave, of course, implies a grasp of atmospheric physics and climate systems, neither of which are simple and trivial. We are therefore left with no choice but to strengthen science education in the Philippines. Allowing an inadequately informed population to live on the stormlands that are the Philippine islands is a massive inhumanity.
2. We should start talking about the weather more often
Although a cooperative public education system is evidently a must in educating the public, sometimes waiting for the government can be like waiting for Godot. We should therefore start with ourselves, friends, and loved ones. One way to do this is by swapping information on how best to minimize the negative effects of storms in our lives, and how best to respond to the negative effects when they finally come. Boring as it sounds, Filipinos should start talking about weather. It’s science, after all, and since the cultural milieu is beginning to embrace the “science is awesome” meme, we should let the “climate science is mind blowing” message hitch a ride on the wave of science’s popularity. After all, people who geek out over weather science are useful to have around during picnics.
3. We need additional weather geeks
As people who live in a country pummeled by record-breaking typhoons on a regular basis, we should place more economic and cultural value on meteorological knowledge. This means that meteorology geeks shouldn’t only be adequately paid, they should also be awarded rock star status. This is only possible in a culture where basic knowledge of the weather is valued and where the power and limits of science are well-appreciated, because otherwise you get all these people who love parroting the phrase “Wala talagang PAGASA ang PAGASA”, or who never tire of the old joke, “If PAGASA says it will be sunny tomorrow, I will bring an umbrella because it’s sure to rain.” Of course PAGASA has an awful lot of room for improvements, but science is not divination and forecasting is not fortunetelling. Science has its limits, and we must understand these limits before we can expand them and exploit science’s powers for the improvement of human well-being.
4. We should be extra sensitive to typhoon traffic
Some parts of the Philippine archipelago are more frequently storm-stricken than others. In light of this, people should be encouraged to live and build businesses on parts of the country with relatively more clement climates. More importantly, for the millions of Filipinos already living in places with high typhoon traffic, layers of safety nets should be in place to minimize the damage.
How can this be accomplished? As always, cooperation from the government must be demanded. But once again, a well-informed public will do wonders. If people know which places are relatively typhoon-free, most of them will be encouraged to move there. For those who do not have the proclivity or motivation to move, structures and systems should be in place to prepare for the worst, like, Yolanda worst.
We already see some of this at work, such as in how Ivatan homes in Batanes are designed to take a pounding or in the fact that the eastern part of Luzon, the part facing the Pacific Ocean, is sparsely populated compared to the western part. But there are still a lot left to be desired, as was illustrated by the horrifying examples of evacuation centers whose roofs were blown away, or relief operations centers that are badly undermanned and underfunded. In parts of the country constantly pummeled by storms, substandard evacuation centers can usually be traced to negligence and insufficient funding of the type that makes graft and corruption heinous crimes.5. We should learn to respect nature
Most city dwellers living in the age of the Internet and modern technology usually fail to appreciate the awesome power and complexity of nature, often to our demise. Typhoon Yolanda serves as a wakeup call that our planet is capable of unleashing tremendous destruction on its inhabitants. Some scientists even suspect that Yolanda might already give us a teaser of the full effects of climate change, a mess we are all in partly because of the failure of previous generations to appreciate the delicate complexity of our planet’s cycles.
Typhoon Yolanda reminds us that our respect for nature must not be limited to a theoretical awe of natural phenomena, but a knowledge that moves us to action to save our lives and the lives of others. While we wish to see improvements in governance and changes in society as a whole, the change should start from our culture and ourselves.
6. We should always try to help in whatever way we can
The time to help is now. But it will never be over, for in the stormlands it will always be time to help. When all survivors are dry, fed, and placed under a safe roof, the next thing we must do would be to change our culture.