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Typhoon Odette ravaged the Phillippines. Is climate change to blame?

A wave of extreme weather events has been sweeping across the globe for the past few years. The latest in a string of devastating events was Typhoon Odette (or Rai) in the Philippines. 

Stunning beaches with crystal clear waters in shades of turquoise and aquamarine and pristine white sands — aka paradise. Images like this may surface when thinking of the Philippines. Whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway, a relaxing beach vacay with your family, or an adventure-filled trip, this gorgeous archipelago in the Pacific Ocean has something for everyone. 

But this beautiful country, like many other tropical islands, has been disproportionately vulnerable to the impacts of climate change — between 2000 to 2019, the country faced a staggering 317 extreme weather events. And just last month, the island country was hit with Typhoon Odette, a category 5 storm that was the most violent typhoon of 2021. A category 5 typhoon is the maximum strength rating for a typhoon, with winds of at least 124 mph (or 200km/h). Odette ravaged the gorgeous beaches and towns of the Philippines, claimed hundreds of lives, and left unimaginable destruction in its wake. 

One of the many thousands of people whose lives were turned upside down is Marie Sevrin, whose eco-resort was destroyed by Odette. We had a chance to chat with her about her experience, the impact of the storm on the local community, the role climate change played, and what we can do to help. 

Marie moved to the Philippines in 2018 and immediately fell in love with the culture, the food, and the beaches. The local community was very warm and welcoming, and she felt right at home. 

“It was like arriving in a large community with so many people from around the world with different languages and cultures. You could just cross the street and some locals would invite you to eat and drink with them. It felt like everybody knew each other and just wanted to enjoy life to the most,” she tells us. 

 

Bombora eco-resort before the typhoon

With her partner Tunga, Marie started building Bombora, an eco-resort in Siargao. Her vision was to build a resort that was completely immersed in nature. The villas were built with large windows that opened out into the lush surrounding forests and overlooked a garden with an outdoor kitchen. It also had a small veggie and herb garden with local organic produce for the guests to use, as well as a compost station.

“The goal of our villas was to give our guests a taste of the simple, but fulfilling life that we were leading in Siargao, immersed in the stunning natural beauty that surrounded us,” she says.

When Typhoon Odette hit Siargao on December 16, 2021, Bombora was almost completely destroyed. 

“We knew something big would happen, but we weren’t expecting something THAT big. Living that kind of experience is traumatizing — we thought we were all about to die. Strong winds made trees snap, fall down entirely, and roofs were taken away with it,” Marie says. “90% of our villas were destroyed. We just opened 6 months ago, so it was tough to see that the hard work we put in for two years was destroyed so easily in just a day.”

She estimates the loss incurred to the resort to be around $35,000. 

“For now, we don’t really know what the future is for our resort. We just don’t have the funds to rebuild it from scratch. Instead, we want to focus our energy on helping the island and the locals who have given us so much,” she says. “We’re trying to stay positive to help the people around us, but we are definitely not okay. It’s a long process to rebuild not just the island, but also ourselves. Someday, we surely will.

 

Images of Bombora eco-resort after the typhoon

So we asked Marie what we could do to help. She and her friends recently started a fundraising campaign to help the local community get access to clean water, food, medicines, and materials to rebuild their homes.

“We are experiencing a hard rainy season, and people are getting sick, mainly because they don’t have a roof above their heads. They are experiencing various skin diseases, diarrhoea, and other health issues,” she explains.

If you’d like to donate to Marie’s fundraiser, you can use this link — every little bit helps! You can also donate to Lokal Lab, an incredible NGO that is focusing on relief efforts and the long-term rehabilitation of Siargao. 

Unfortunately, stories like Marie’s are not isolated incidents. Typhoon Odette is not an unprecedented event. If we zoom out and look at the bigger picture, we can see that there’s been a rise in extreme weather events all over the world over the past few years. And this is no coincidence. Tropical storms in particular have become more frequent, and also stronger and more devastating. There’s a lot of data out there that indicates that this has been linked to human-induced climate change.

“The world has been sending us a message for a long time now. What’s happening now is a sign that the earth is not okay,” Marie says. And to compound the effect of stronger typhoons, with mining and deforestation, the trees and mountains that protect them from flooding and strong winds have decreased, leaving them even more vulnerable to the effects of these storms. 

“The trend is there and it is real,” James P. Kossin, a researcher with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the lead author of one of the studies, said. “There’s this remarkable building of this body of evidence that we’re making these storms more deleterious.”

While the world is consumed by the pandemic, a key focus on people’s radars is COVID, events like Odette slip by undercovered by the media. Scientists and climate activists have been trying to warn us about this for years now, and feel gaslit and frustrated with government inaction and misrepresentation by the media. Burnout amongst the scientific and activist communities is real. We wrote a piece on this last year, and it’s more relevant now than ever. 

The battle against climate change is a marathon, not a sprint, and it cannot be fought by scientists and activists alone. It’s an all-hands-on-deck situation, and we all need to do the work. 

 

Featured image: Marie’s partner Tunga standing at Bombora eco-resort after the typhoon with the destruction behind her 
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