Signs of the Times

haiyanSigns of the Times
The record breaking and terrifying Typhoon Haiyan which swept with such destructive force across the centre of the Philippines last month was of such magnitude that no one could have expected . In a country where typhoons are a regular occurrence, no one was prepared for this one. That is why so many have died. The final total is not yet known, and may never be known. At least one little family here in Cork is still waiting for news of family in Tacloban. A chef in Dublin spoke on radio of having lost ten members of his family. “I don’t know how I am going to cope”, he said. Anecdotes like this can bring some of the effects home to Irish people, mostly secure and sheltered in strongly built houses, and in a country that has regulations on safe building practices.

The protections we enjoy from our geography and relative wealth can insulate us from what is happening elsewhere. That is one of the reasons why climate issues and global warming rate so low in peoples’ consciousness and in government policies. But we must begin to imagine situations where people are suffering from severe drought, destructive flooding, gigantic mudslides resulting from unusually heavy rainfall, dangerously high or dangerously low temperatures, especially where people don’t have the resources to deal with such events. “Climate refugees” are becoming a new phenomenon, even if, as yet, they are not arriving in this country. “According to UN studies the countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate changed are the developing countries of southeast Asia and Africa. The Philippines was deemed the third most vulnerable”..

But developing countries are less well equipped to deal with major emergencies. The infrastructure is mostly very poor, sometimes non-existent. Decades of poverty, political corruption, economic inequality leave countries too weak to respond and to develop a recovery plan. We have known that social inequality and poverty exacerbate political inequality and situations of injustice, but the “events in the Philippines are perhaps the harbinger of how frequent natural disasters will increasingly reflect, and amplify, global inequality”.

The European Union, including Ireland, is taking an increasingly harder line on admitting refugees and asylum seekers from countries in crisis, but we cannot isolate ourselves from the global scene. Increasingly, we are part of a world, not just of a nation or a Union or a Continent. Can we “widen the space of our tent”, as a prophet of the Jewish Scriptures urged the people? We have to develop a sense of global solidarity. Those boat people risking their lives on some flimsy craft to get to Europe, are our brothers and sisters. They are not strangers with strange customs and languages. Christmas, the great Christian feast, is approaching. What about that young couple from the northern province of Galilee who arrived in Bethlehem looking urgently for shelter? This was not a once-off occurrence. The urgent search for shelter globally, continues every day.
Quotations from Davin O’Dwyer, Irish Times, Saturday 23. 2013.