Extreme weather events wreak havoc on communities around the world as they result in loss of livelihoods, as well as the demolition of infrastructure and economies. Natural disasters leave a trail of destruction that often takes years to repair. When Typhoon Rai hit the Philippines in December 2021, there was no exception.

Situated on the Pacific Ocean, the archipelago has a long coastline exposed to typhoons. On average, the country sees 20 typhoons every year. Akin to hurricanes and tropical cyclones, these storms bring heavy rain and strong winds that can cause flooding, landslides, and coastal erosion — and they have become increasingly intense and destructive due to climate change and rising sea temperature.

Despite contributing less than 0.4% to the global climate crisis, the Philippines bears the brunt of some of its most devastating consequences. Rising sea levels brought about by global warming could plunge the capital city of Manila underwater by 2100, with other possible outcomes including population displacement, flooding, ecosystem destruction, and worsening health emergencies, according to Amnesty International.

With little capacity to manage extreme weather events, the Philippines faces costly reconstruction every time one strikes. When Typhoon Rai hit, it caused massive damage and the country was ill-equipped to cope. An estimated 2.4 million people were left in need of assistance, while nearly 1.7 million houses were damaged. Fishing, farming, and tourism businesses were also hit hard, threatening the livelihoods of many.

The international community — including Ireland, the US, and Canada — stepped up to support the response in the immediate aftermath. The latter provided $2.2 million in a flexible donation to the World Food Programme’s (WFP) typhoon response.

“The government’s capacity to respond had been weakened by the long COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent economic downturn,” WFP Philippines Country Director Brenda Barton told Global Citizen. 

This means that a donation like Canada's was especially crucial at this point in time.

“WFP will use Canada’s contribution to provide one month of cash assistance to around 48,000 families on the islands of Dinagat, Leyte, and Bohol ... as they enter recovery. Cash assistance empowers people with choice and cash in addressing their essential needs,” Barton explained.

Additional support from the government helped bridge humanitarian staffing gaps by hiring WFP emergency and gender specialists, including junior consultants sponsored by the United Nations Association of Canada (UNAC). These resources enabled the organization to respond quickly and effectively to the challenge, supplementing the needs of the humanitarian response, Barton said.

Ayaz Syed was one of these junior consultants working on implementing the organization’s communications campaign to garner support for its emergency response. Over the course of six months, he was responsible for driving support for global initiatives, such as WFP’s ShareTheMeal campaign, as well as raising funds for affected communities.

“Gaining exposure to international climate crises has shown me firsthand how Canadian humanitarian aid can create innovative, sustainable changes at home and abroad,” Syed told Global Citizen.

These contributions will be especially important when it comes to increasing capacity and preparedness for future extreme weather events and ensuring communities can continue to adapt to climate change. In particular, the WFP is now looking at mapping regions most likely to be impacted and working with weather specialists to improve anticipatory action. International support from governments such as Canada will be needed in the future to support such essential programs, Barton said.

And while Canada's response to the natural disaster provides an example as to why official development assistance (ODA) is so needed, it is far from the only one.

Also known as foreign aid, ODA is a vital element to achieving the UN's Global Goals. ODA contributions can make a difference in improving access to health care and education, as well as tackling poverty and gender inequality around the world.

And in the Philippines specifically, a significant commitment from Canada could help them deal with another major issue — stunting. 

Globally, the Philippines has one of the highest numbers of stunted children in the world, with an alarming prevalence rate of 28%. Stunting often results from a lack of food security, poor nutrition, and poor health care — often because families are unable to afford to keep a diet that meets their nutritional needs. WFP is directly working on addressing cultural and societal drivers of poor nutrition through tailored communication campaigns, but as the underlying causes are also economic, addressing poverty and inequality is just as crucial. 

Canadian Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland will be presenting Canada's federal budget on Thursday, which will outline the next steps for Canada’s aid spending. With Canada falling short of its target of committing 0.7% of its Gross National Income (GNI) to ODA, Global Citizen has signed an open letter to urge the government to increase its spending by $1.5 billion in order to reach a total $9 billion in 2022.

In doing so, Canada could play a crucial role in supporting people affected by climate change and natural disasters, as well as addressing the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. You can get involved and take action on this issue here.


Defend the Planet

Canada Was Able to Send Help When Typhoon Rai Hit the Philippines — That's Why Foreign Aid Matters

By Sarah El Gharib