Myths About Disaster Survivors Stall The Global Response To Climate change

Myths About Disaster Survivors Stall The Global Response To Climate Change In this November 2013, photo, Typhoon Haiyan survivors pass by hundreds of victims in body bags near Tacloban, Philippines. Haiyan left more than 7,300 people dead or missing. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)

The 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations body that assesses climate change science, says the world needs to limit global temperature increases to below 1.5C this century.

Doing so will minimize human suffering from climate-related risks, the IPCC argues, but they won’t be eliminated completely. The report says we also need to implement the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, particularly in eradicating poverty and bridging socio-cultural, political and economic inequalities.

This is even more important in the Asia Pacific region, where a number of countries, including the Philippines, are suffering significantly from extreme weather events.

Disasters, as forms of crisis, can offer opportunities to more sharply focus on historical and ongoing inequalities. What lessons can we learn from large-scale disaster responses and how can we apply them in the face of intensifying and more frequent extreme weather events?

Drawing on our research in the aftermath of the 2013 Typhoon Haiyan disaster in Eastern Visayas, Philippines, we found that few meaningful lessons were drawn from Haiyan because the recovery of survivors had been romanticized and distorted. While resilience and stories of the communities “building back better” has become the legacy of Haiyan, those on the ground says it’s actually more like “building back bitter.”

We found that after almost six years, there are now worrying signs in the telling and re-telling of the disaster, and the recovery that occurred afterwards, especially for the hardest-hit communities.

Myths About Disaster Survivors Stall The Global Response To Climate Change In this November 2013 photo, Typhoon Haiyan survivors walk through the ruins in the streets of Tacloban, Philippines. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)

Non-governmental humanitarian agencies, governments and the media tell us that Typhoon Haiyan-affected communities aren’t just surviving, they are thriving. Poor households, in particular, are resilient and resourceful. They were even referred to as “the happiest beneficiaries” seen by international responders. In fact, five years after Haiyan, Tacloban City branded itself as “Home of the Happiest People in the World” in an attempt to attract tourism. This is aligned with other forms of myth-making that took place after Haiyan.

Myth 1: Resilience is innate

National media and international humanitarian coverage of the Haiyan post-disaster recovery strongly drew upon narratives of survival and highlighted stories of communities joining together against all odds.

The recovery was attributed to the innate resilience of Filipinos represented by bayanihan, a traditional custom of mutual assistance.

Yet we found evidence — based on a survey of local residents and from secondary sources, including official humanitarian and evaluation reports — that bayanihan was short-lived. Community well-being was secondary or regarded as a positive side-effect to securing self-interest or family welfare in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.

Respondents noted how recovery has been uneven and that mutual assistance did not always mean mutual trust. Indeed, women have specific motivations to be skeptical of relying upon community altruism in the broader post-Haiyan context because of reports that sexual and gender-based violence, especially in displacement sites, took place as the crisis unfolded.

And so promoting the idea of resilience in the absence of addressing community tensions and inequalities worsens rather than enhances post-disaster recovery.

Myth 2: The poor are endlessly resourceful

We found through our research that despite the devastation, social welfare and community work were grossly undervalued when it came to physically rebuilding devastated communities. This particularly affected women social workers and volunteers. Even worse, women volunteers often have to use their own personal resources to do their jobs.

The myth that the poor are resourceful is one that strategically relies on gender roles due to a bias that women will make do with whatever is available. This further adds “proof” that resources are always plentiful in impoverished communities, thereby relinquishing responsibility from governments to redistribute resources adequately.

The myth of resourcefulness glorifies the capacity of female disaster victims to not just overcome the daily struggles of poverty and post-disaster survival, but to even “thrive,” “innovate” or take the initiative to stretch available resources. This erases all the gendered sacrifices, including physical and emotional stress, from intensified care obligations.

Myth 3: Overseas migrant remittances

In times of disasters and crises, a growing body of research has started to focus on the role of global households and money sent back home. In the case of the Haiyan response, the humanitarian evaluation report by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) concluded that “the diaspora played possibly the most direct and important role for many affected communities … remittances to the Philippines rose by $600 million in the first three months following Haiyan.”

The surge of remittances after the disaster isn’t surprising given that the Philippines was the third largest recipient of remittances in the world in 2017. But remittances on their own cannot change the pre-existing inequalities that compound the impact of a disaster; they simply mitigate them.

Our findings caution against overstating the importance and contribution of remittances to post-disaster recovery. Unlike long-term development assistance and investments in social welfare, they typically augment daily household provisions and rely on the unending altruism of mostly women migrant workers abroad.

Haiyan-affected households with limited or no access to remittances were not able to rebuild fully. They remain exposed and even more vulnerable when the next typhoon strikes.

Based on our research, we argue that long-term global climate change response is at risk when accounts of resilience, resourcefulness and remittance are mythologized and eventually cemented as truths in the aftermath of disasters.

The Haiyan disaster is a cautionary case for climate adaptation and mitigation because it demonstrates the seductiveness of survival myths.

These idealized narratives ultimately do more harm than good because they prevent the identification of specific conditions that make households and communities particularly vulnerable to disasters, as well as the tremendous gendered inequalities that are often exacerbated in their aftermath.

About The Author

Yvonne Su, PhD Candidate, International Development and Political Science, University of Guelph and Maria Tanyag, Lecturer, International Relations, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future

by Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann
1786634295How climate change will affect our political theory—for better and worse. Despite the science and the summits, leading capitalist states have not achieved anything close to an adequate level of carbon mitigation. There is now simply no way to prevent the planet breaching the threshold of two degrees Celsius set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. What are the likely political and economic outcomes of this? Where is the overheating world heading? Available On Amazon

Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis

by Jared Diamond
0316409138Adding a psychological dimension to the in-depth history, geography, biology, and anthropology that mark all of Diamond's books, Upheaval reveals factors influencing how both whole nations and individual people can respond to big challenges. The result is a book epic in scope, but also his most personal book yet. Available On Amazon

Global Commons, Domestic Decisions: The Comparative Politics of Climate Change

by Kathryn Harrison et al
0262514311Comparative case studies and analyses of the influence of domestic politics on countries' climate change policies and Kyoto ratification decisions. Climate change represents a “tragedy of the commons” on a global scale, requiring the cooperation of nations that do not necessarily put the Earth's well-being above their own national interests. And yet international efforts to address global warming have met with some success; the Kyoto Protocol, in which industrialized countries committed to reducing their collective emissions, took effect in 2005 (although without the participation of the United States). Available On Amazon

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

POLITICS

Why Australian Labor’s Climate Policy Is Too Little, Too Late
Why Australian Labor’s Climate Policy Is Too Little, Too Late
by Will Steffen
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese’s announcement on Friday that a Labor government would adopt a target of net-zero…
Stories Of When Your Kids Make You Feel Old! | The Curls
Old Conservative White Men: Pass The Football To Someone Who Will Try To Score
by Robert Jennings, InnerSelf.com
We have had important US elections but this one in November 2020 is undoubtedly the most important. Why? America and…
A Military Perspective On Climate Change Could Bridge The Gap Between Believers And Doubters
A Military Perspective On Climate Change Could Bridge The Gap Between Believers And Doubters
by Michael Klare
As experts warn that the world is running out of time to head off severe climate change, discussions of what the U.S.…
Revolutionary Change Needed To Stop Unprecedented Global Extinction Crisis
Revolutionary Change Needed To Stop Unprecedented Global Extinction Crisis
by Michelle Lim
Nearly a million species face extinction if we do not fundamentally change our relationship with the natural world,…
Countering Climate Denialism Requires Taking On Right-wing Populism.
Countering Climate Denialism Requires Taking On Right-wing Populism
by Richard Calland
History may in due course record 2019 as the year in which the penny finally dropped about the climate emergency…
Yes, More Carbon Dioxide In The Atmosphere Helps Plants Grow, But It’s No Excuse To Downplay Climate Change
Yes, More Carbon Dioxide In The Atmosphere Helps Plants Grow, But It’s No Excuse To Downplay Climate Change
by Vanessa Haverd, et al
The alarming rate of carbon dioxide flowing into our atmosphere is affecting plant life in interesting ways – but…
How CEOs, Experts And Philosophers See The World's Biggest Risks Differently
How CEOs, Experts And Philosophers See The World's Biggest Risks Differently
by Christopher Michaelson
We live in a world threatened by numerous existential risks that no country or organization can resolve alone, such as…
Reliance On Coal Divides European States
Reliance On Coal Divides European States
by Kieran Cooke
Two European states with a traditional reliance on coal are taking radically different paths as the climate crisis…

LATEST VIDEOS

How These Three Financial Firms Could Change The Direction Of The Climate Crisis
How These Three Financial Firms Could Change The Direction Of The Climate Crisis
by Mangulina Jan Fichtner, et al
A silent revolution is happening in investing. It is a paradigm shift that will have a profound impact on corporations,…
PBS Nova's Polar Extremes
PBS Nova's Polar Extremes
by PBS
In this two-hour special, renowned paleontologist Kirk Johnson takes us on an epic adventure through time at the polar…
A huge iceberg just broke off West Antarctica’s most endangered glacier
A Huge Iceberg Just Broke Off West Antarctica’s Most Endangered Glacier
by Madeleine Stone
Huge blocks of ice regularly shear away from Antarctica’s ice shelves, but the losses are speeding up.
The Rise Of Solar Power
by CNBC
Solar power is on the rise. You can see the evidence on rooftops and in the desert, where utility-scale solar plants…
World's Largest Batteries: Pumped Storage
by Practical Engineering
The vast majority of our grid-scale storage of electricity uses this clever method.
Hydrogen Fuels Rockets, But What About Power For Daily Life?
Hydrogen Fuels Rockets, But What About Power For Daily Life?
by Zhenguo Huang
Have you ever watched a space shuttle launch? The fuel used to thrust these enormous structures away from Earth’s…
Fossil Fuel Production Plans Could Push Earth off a Climate Cliff
by The Real News Network
The United Nations is beginning its climate summit in Madrid.
Big Rail Spends More on Denying Climate Change than Big Oil
by The Real News Network
A new study concludes that rail is the industry that's injected the most money into climate change denial propaganda…

LATEST ARTICLES

Why Australian Labor’s Climate Policy Is Too Little, Too Late
Why Australian Labor’s Climate Policy Is Too Little, Too Late
by Will Steffen
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese’s announcement on Friday that a Labor government would adopt a target of net-zero…
How These Three Financial Firms Could Change The Direction Of The Climate Crisis
How These Three Financial Firms Could Change The Direction Of The Climate Crisis
by Mangulina Jan Fichtner, et al
A silent revolution is happening in investing. It is a paradigm shift that will have a profound impact on corporations,…
Green Ammonia Could Slash Emissions From Farming And Power Ships Of The Future
Green Ammonia Could Slash Emissions From Farming And Power Ships Of The Future
by Bill David
For the past 100 years, a simple molecule has had an immensely positive impact on our world. Ammonia, which comprises…
Ideal US Cities To Survive Climate Change
Ideal US Cities To Survive Climate Change
by Johnna Crider
Climate scientists have shared where they think would be an ideal place to live in the United States in order to avoid…
Stories Of When Your Kids Make You Feel Old! | The Curls
Old Conservative White Men: Pass The Football To Someone Who Will Try To Score
by Robert Jennings, InnerSelf.com
We have had important US elections but this one in November 2020 is undoubtedly the most important. Why? America and…
How Tiny Microbes Are Revolutionizing Big Agriculture
How Tiny Microbes Are Revolutionizing Big Agriculture
by Mathew Wallenstein, Colorado State University
Walk into your typical U.S. or U.K. grocery store and feast your eyes on an amazing bounty of fresh and processed…
Uk’s Nuclear Future Hangs On Electricity Tax
Uk’s Nuclear Future Hangs On Electricity Tax
by Paul Brown
The new British prime minister, Boris Johnson, must soon decide whether to save the UK’s nuclear future with an…
Extreme Weather Could Push The U.S. Into Recession
Extreme Weather Could Push The U.S. Into Recession
by Karen Nikos
Physical climate risk from extreme weather events remains unaccounted for in financial markets, a new paper warns.