Supertyphoon Odette: Precautionary Tale

By: Antonio Gabriel M. La Viña, Yla Gloria Marie P. Paras, Jameela Joy M. Reyes

When Typhoon Odette ravaged the Philippines in December 2021, many were caught by surprise. While families knew what to do in case of rain, hardly anyone saw what came with the typhoon: violent rains, gusty winds, storm surges, intense flooding, and power outages. Provinces that were not usually badly hit by typhoons were caught unaware by Odette, leaving them desolate and wrecked in its wake. After the typhoon, and in the midst of the pandemic still, it was estimated that around 13 million people were affected, 36 million homes were damaged, at least 1,371 were injured, and 409 people reported dead.

More than five (5) months since, affected areas are still recovering. While some provinces are faring better than others, including Cebu and Bohol, others are still having difficulty rebuilding, especially far flung and geographically remote areas in Palawan, Dinagat Islands, and Siargao. Aid from the national government has been slow, despite the easing of COVID-related restrictions, and help received is inconsistent, often volunteer-led.

Moreover, made more vulnerable are communities, and sectors within those communities who are already historically marginalized for a variety of reasons, including, but not limited to, women, the youth, persons with disabilities, and indigenous peoples. Access to aid is inequitable, sometimes inaccessible, as some of these groups would have to traverse long distances, often via foot, just to receive support. Even temporary shelters in the form of evacuation centers are not always gender-inclusive, with women not having access to private, separate restrooms or changing areas.

Supertyphoon Odette was the strongest typhoon to have hit the country for 2021, and it is foreseen that these weather events will just increase in both frequency and intensity in the coming years as a result of the climate crisis. In fact, in most of the Global South, such impacts are already felt, including, but not limited to, harsher weather leading to longer droughts and excessive rainfall, and unpredictability in weather patterns. In turn, this leads to resources issues, disruption in daily lives, and, in the case of Supertyphoon Odette, a stark showing of inequality.

Worse, Supertyphoon Odette hit areas which were not usually hard hit by typhoons – Palawan, for instance, is rarely hit by typhoons. Its location on the western part of the country shields it from the Pacific Ocean, as does mainland Luzon to its right. In the past, typhoons that make landfall will significantly weaken before it reaches Palawan; however, Supertyphoon Odette maintained its strength when it made landfall in the province, wreaking havoc and exposing the vulnerability of the biodiversity-heavy region. In the same vein, Mindanao does not usually experience typhoons, but Siargao, which sits at the northern part of the island, was devastated – roofs were blown off, landslides blocked access roads, and trees were uprooted.

The urgent need for a loss and damage facility

The Manila Observatory, as part of the Alliance for Climate Transformation by 2025 Consortium (ACT2025), firmly believes that a loss and damage facility in place would have changed what happened in the aftermath of Supertyphoon Odette.

Referred to as the harms resulting from the adverse effects of climate change, including rapid events and slow onset events, such as sea level rise, and including economic or non-economic harms to life, livelihood ecosystems, or cultural heritage, cultural identity, sacred places or objects, and human health and lives, among others, loss and damage is vital to assist communities after they have experienced climate-related losses.

If a loss and damage facility were in place, that is, an institutional financial arrangement that communities could go to after the onslaught of climate-related events, recovery post-Odette would not have been as slow and difficult. The aid that would come in from government or volunteer-led donation drives would then be complementary to already existing – and accessible – aid, and therefore the help from the national and local government could be not just in the form of financial support, but psychosocial, cultural, or health-related aid.

If a loss and damage facility were in place, historically-marginalized communities will be able to directly seek recourse and aid, as a loss and damage facility will put at the forefront fairness and equity, and will be specifically created to address the recovery and rehabilitation needs of affected communities. This will allow them to rebuild, and, if necessary, relocate. This will allow them to have access to gender-inclusive structures, and fortify places that are culturally vital to their communities. Most importantly, this will allow the communities – who know their needs best – to take ownership of their recovery.

Loss and damage over the decades…

The concept of loss and damage in the context of the climate negotiations is not novel. While the Bali Action Plan, a result of the climate talks in 2007, was the first document to use the term “loss and damage” [1], the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) in the 1990s first called for a mechanism by which vulnerable small island and low-lying states affected by rising sea levels will be compensated.

Since then, other countries, most of them climate-vulnerable and developing states, have been realizing that they also are facing climate-related events that are becoming increasingly difficult to adapt to. In the Conference of Parties (COP) 19 in Warsaw, Poland, the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (WIM) was established in order to address these losses and damages, including extreme and slow onset events.

In COP21 in Paris, developing countries were able to negotiate the inclusion of loss and damage in the Paris Agreement, found in Article 8 thereof. The agreement distinguished Loss and Damage from adaptation, turning it into an almost third pillar of climate action, after adaptation and mitigation.

The conversations continued in the succeeding COPs, and in 2019, the Santiago Network for Loss and Damage (SNLD) was created at COP25 in Madrid. The Network, which will connect vulnerable countries “with providers of technical assistance, knowledge, resources they need to address climate risks comprehensively in the context of averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage” was a welcome outcome of the negotiations as it helped to further the work on loss and damage. A web-based portal was also created in order to facilitate the giving of assistance.

In the interim, discussions on the WIM were held, and Loss and Damage was included in the Paris Agreement’s provisions on the transparency framework and global stocktake. It is hoped that sooner rather than later, loss and damage becomes a concrete inclusion in the succeeding international climate negotiations, particularly with regard to the creation of a funding facility.

Advocating for a facility

As we prepare for the COP27 in Egypt in November 2022, we amplify the calls of the most climate-vulnerable of countries and stand in solidarity with marginalized communities who call for the creation of a Loss and Damage facility.

At its core, loss and damage is a climate justice issue – after all, countries most affected by the climate crisis are those who contribute least to the crisis, and while the effects of an increasingly warming world will affect everyone, it will affect communities disproportionately. The reality is, loss and damage will harm vulnerable communities the most. Therefore, any help offered by developed countries – historically those who have emitted much of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions – has to be in the form of reparations and grants, not loans. As of writing, only Scotland has followed through with that commitment.

These extreme weather events will just increase in frequency in the coming years and decades, and already scientists are warning that the window for climate action is rapidly closing. There is, therefore, a similarly urgent need for a loss and damage funding facility – a facility that is equitable, just, accessible, and fair.

[1] Recognizing that deep cuts in global emissions will be required to achieve the ultimate objective of the Convention and emphasizing the urgency to address climate change as indicated in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,

  1. Decides to launch a comprehensive process to enable the full, effective and sustained implementation of the Convention through long-term cooperative action, now, up to and beyond 2012, in order to reach an agreed outcome and adopt a decision at its fifteenth session, by addressing, inter alia:


(c) Enhanced action on adaptation, including, inter alia, consideration of:

xxx (iii) Disaster reduction strategies and means to address loss and damage associated with climate change impacts in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change;”

Photo credits: Rappler