Analyzing disaster politics

Community News & Features Jan 24, 2014 at 7:00 pm
Four speakers and organizer of York U panel: (From left) Matt Capobianco of Globalmedic; Kenneth Cardenas of York U; Mila Astorga-Garcia, The Philippine Reporter; Chris Sorio, Migrante Canada; and Philip Kelly, York Centre for Asian Research (YCAR) director.

Four speakers and organizer of York U panel: (From left) Matt Capobianco of Globalmedic; Kenneth Cardenas of York U; Mila Astorga-Garcia, The Philippine Reporter; Chris Sorio, Migrante Canada; and Philip Kelly, York Centre for Asian Research (YCAR) director.

FOUR SPEAKERS AT YORK UNIVERSITY

The depth of suffering and destruction wrought by Typhoon Haiyan led many in Canada to reflect on their connections with the Philippines. For some, the relationship is intimate – in the form of extended family members who remain in the Philippines. But even among non-Filipinos, there are very few people in a city like Toronto who are more than one degree separated from events in the Philippines – through classmates, co-workers or neighbours. As a result of these connections, the response to Haiyan was rapid and generous, as hundreds of groups sought ways to help.

A panel discussion at York University on Monday assessed the various forms of relief that have been mobilized from Canada.

Representing the Canadian humanitarian sector, Matt Capobianco, Manager, Emergency Programs, at Globalmedic, a relief organization based here in Toronto. described his work as an early responder. Capobianco led Globalmedic’s team of four into the Philippines in the immediate aftermath of the Typhoon. The team immediately established operations in Tanauan, on day four after the Haiyan landfall, setting up water purification projects and field hospitals. He stayed there for the first month of Globalmedic’s response and is now coordinating the operation from their HQ in Toronto. To date Globalmedic has treated 1600 patients, and purified and distributed more than 2.5 million litters of water.

Representing the Filipino-Canadian NGO sector, Christopher Sorio Vice-Chair of Migrante Canada described the work done by Sagip Migrante in reconnecting Filipino migrants with family members in affected areas, and in delivering aid to the needy. Over $40,000 has been raised across Canada. Sorio noted that Migrante seeks to put aid in the context of wider political problems such as corruption, and that an important part of its longer term mission is to educate and empower rather than just delivering immediate assistance.

Mila Astorga-Garcia, currently Research Coordinator for the Community Alliance for Social Justice (CASJ) and Managing Editor of The Philippine Reporter newspaper, and native of Tanauan, Leyte – one of the hardest hit towns — reflected on the crucial role of families in reaching and supporting their kin even before organized relief operations had begun. In many cases, Filipino-Canadians sent funds to relatives in Manila who, in turn, bought basic supplies – like food, water and medicine—and bravely navigated roads judged impassable to relief convoys to get help to their relatives. Garcia also noted that in the chaotic early response when relief was a life and death issue, amidst political bickering between national, regional and local governments, families of the town spontaneously organized bayanihan style an informal network which received transported goods from civic organizations and other private donors from Manila, Cebu and other cities, and distributed them to Tanauan residents.

The last panelist, Kenneth Cardenas, is a PhD candidate at York University and formerly Assistant Professor at UP Diliman. Cardenas’ research has examined the politics of risk management in the context of climate change and natural disasters. He commented on the ways in which the aftermath of Haiyan was being managed in troubling ways. In particular, rebuilding is often done in an exclusionary manner and with militaristic techniques.

The panel was organized and chaired by Philip Kelly, Director of the York Centre for Asian Research. It forms part of a series of events at the Centre focused on Philippine Studies. Future speakers include Neferti Tadiar (New York University) on March 7th, and Sheila Coronel (Columbia University) on March 17th. For more information: ycar@yorku.ca