Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach

Climate Refugees from Haiyan to Sandy

March 18, 2014

  Cara Costa, CCAO Migration Intern

Cara Costa, Migration Intern

“But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals on the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth and the waters subsided.”- Genesis 8:1

Around the world today, millions of people are being uprooted from their homes and countries.  Climate refugees are individuals or communities who are forced to migrate because of climate change, a reality that we can no longer ignore.

What do all of these climate related events have in common? Water: too much, or too little.  Droughts, hurricanes, typhoons and floods, provoked by global climate change, are leaving families to face separation, sacrifice and utter desolation.

The effects of climate change are surfacing across the globe.  Most recently, we can look at Typhoon Haiyan, which tore through the Philippines in November of 2013. Typhoon Haiyan was the strongest storm ever to hit landfall, claiming over 6,000 lives, and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless.  Approximately 4 million people are displaced and living in evacuation shelters around the hardest hit islands.[i]

Not only are many without homes, but the livelihoods of many were also taken in the storm.  Among those affected most were the coconut, sugar and fishery sectors. Many of these small farmers/fisher-folks are women.  With the complete destruction of coconut trees, sugar fields and boats, many will not be able to return to work for more than a year.  Haiyan destroyed some 33 million coconut trees, which in the Philippines are commonly called, “the trees of life.” When planting a new coconut tree, it can take anywhere from fifteen to twenty years to reach full production.  For many, the road to recovery will be long and hard.  [ii]

Typhoon Haiyan leaves women particularly vulnerable; not only because they are typically small farmers, but because women are vulnerable to sexual violence, trafficking, and lack of medical care during natural disasters.

And yet, even when the devastation occurs close to home, climate change is still overlooked.  Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc across the Caribbean, Eastern US, and Canada, during late October and early November of 2012, just a year prior to Haiyan.  The super storm was responsible for the death of 117 people and displacement of approximately 100,000.[iii]

The effects of super storm Sandy were even apparent in my hometown of Cranford, NJ, a town in Union County that is located sufficiently inland (approximately 40 minutes).  However, with a river running through the south side of town, Cranford experienced significant flooding, causing an estimated 6 million dollars in public and private damages.[iv] Some of my friends’ houses were flooded up to the second floor, their lives were uprooted, and rebuilding ensued. One would think that this amount of extreme damage in the U.S. would pose the question, why? I don’t know if it could be any more apparent.

According to a report released by the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, the U.S. was the second leading producer of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use in 2013.[v] Therefore, it is not only our responsibility, but our moral call to reduce our global footprint and prevent the future destruction of God’s gift to all creation: the Earth.   We can no longer look the other way and turn our backs on our very own brothers and sisters.


[i]CNN.  http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/13/world/asia/philippines-typhoon-haiyan/. Accessed 3/7/14.

[ii] Oxfam America. http://politicsofpoverty.oxfamamerica.org/2014/02/philippines-livelihoods-crisis-looms-typhoon-haiyan/. Accessed 3/7/14.

[iii] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/04/hurricane-sandy-vs-katrina-infographic_n_2072432.html

[iv] NJ.com. http://www.nj.com/cranford/index.ssf/2012/11/cranford_reports_6_million_in.html. Accessed on 3/7/14.

[v]PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. http://edgar.jrc.ec.europa.eu/news_docs/pbl-2013-trends-in-global-co2-emissions-2013-report-1148.pdf. Accessed 3/7/14.

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