Philippine climate change envoy Naderev Sano will on Saturday reach ground zero of the strongest typhoon ever to hit land, completing an epic march that he believes will help spur action against global warming.
Sano will end his 1,000-kilometer trek in Tacloban City, capital of Leyte province in the Philippines’ Visayas region, which was among the worst hit when Super Typhoon Yolanda crashed in off the Pacific Ocean exactly one year ago today.
“It’s been a wonderful journey. Physically, the walk is starting to take a toll on my legs . . . but everyone is in high spirits and so am I,” Sano told Agence France-Presse as he reached the final rest-stop in the typhoon-damaged town of Basey in nearby Samar province.
Sano and 12 other walkers have traveled an average of 25 kilometers a day since leaving Manila more than a month ago.
The Philippine representative to the United Nations’ climate change negotiations, he made world headlines last year when he fasted during an annual summit in Poland to protest supposed lack of meaningful progress in actions against global warming.
The trek to Tacloban is another call to action, and he has garnered the support of global environment activist heavyweights, such as Greenpeace, Oxfam and Climate Action Network, as well as strong social media support.
It is also a show of solidarity for the millions of survivors of Yolanda, many of whom are enduring brutal poverty and living in areas that leave them dangerously exposed to the next big storm.
The super typhoon left more than 7,350 people dead or missing as winds of 315 kilometees an hour and tsunami-like storm surges devastated poor farming and fishing communities.
The typhoon was an extreme weather event consistent with man-made climate change, the UN’s weather agency said in March.
“We are under no illusions that the walk will change anything [in the climate change fight]overnight, but it is raising awareness,” Sano said.
A more tangible outcome of the journey was the overwhelming support of local communities that the walkers have passed through, according to Sano.
“At the least, every person [among those]whom we have encountered, we can safely say we have converted them on climate change action and they will become local environmental heroes in their own communities,” he said.
“Many of them promised to us they would continue the fight by organizing with their own communities to protect their natural resources,” Sano added.
He said every local government in the 40 towns they stopped in along the way had signed commitments to take their own action on climate change, including developing strategies to cope with stronger storms.
Sano added that the band of walkers had swelled to as many as 3,000 people at different stages of the trek, as school children and supporters in towns joined for a few hours or a day.
The original group that started in Manila stayed each night in tents or in local community centres such as gymnasiums or schools, and they would approach each town banging drums or playing other musical instruments.
Sano, 40, said he had lost a lot of weight and had a shin splint that left him in severe pain during the final stages of the walk, but he was otherwise in good health.
He described the best part of the journey as the walk into Basey, which was the first town in his journey that had been badly damaged during Yolanda.
“I was personally anticipating a solemn atmosphere but what we got was a rousing welcome… I got teary-eyed, many walkers got-teary eyed,” Sano said.