The month of September 2018 will be remembered by people in the Asia-Pacific as a cautionary tale to protect the earth. While the category 5 storm Mangkhut, the most powerful recorded in modern history battered the Philippines, Hong Kong and large parts of South China, Hurricane Florence tore through the south of the US (targeting North and South Carolina head-on). The aftermath made it crystal clear that neglected and underdeveloped communities suffer long-term disproportionate effects of natural disasters. Here is what the super typhoon did to a fringe town in Hong Kong.

Uprooted sidewalks, fallen trees and torn sewage pipes – these sights have become all too common for villagers unable to get out of their houses for days. Especially for people with disabilities, they were on forced lockdowns at home. Not only infrastructural damage, but sewage pipes were found in disrepair, according to the Drainage Services Department in Sai Kung. That caused an uproar among local residents but the missing question was, and continues to linger now, who is responsible for the two-part havoc on vulnerable lives and the environment?

Many call it climate change. In fact, tropical storms are human-induced disasters. Greenhouse gases are accumulated in the atmosphere sourced from industry burning fossil fuels, carbon-fueled vehicles and deforestation, to name a few. Climate change scientists have proven with data plotting the exponential rise in temperatures since the 1950s, ergo, the Paris-Climate Accords is a big deal. The Trump Administration’s blind spot to the hurricanes’ life-shattering consequences on American citizens bears the unequal burden of recovery in pillaged regions. The President never bothered to visit and provide aid to regions hit the worst. Case in point: Puerto Rico.

Here at home, Chief Executive Carrie Lam is making public appearances commemorating the launch of the Express Rail Link but abdicated her responsibilities, now long-overdue, to visit people critically hit by Mangkhut. After a whole week of drawing flak for being a no-show, Carrie Lam took a day off to ‘comfort’ victims of the storm. What can you expect from a Chief Executive who failed to implement a disaster-preparedness strategy, issue warnings of transport delays or even recommend employees stay home for their own safety and security a day following the typhoon?

Everyone was affected by Mangkhut one way or another. Most argue class or economic status should not matter as much, but it has been recorded since Hurricane Katrina in the US that the greatest destruction and loss of life was in poor, vulnerable locations. At least 100 people are presumed dead in the Philippines compared to nearly 100 people reportedly injured in Hong Kong.

Global movements have called on international pro-environment bodies to investigate recovery efforts that take years to heal the millions of dollars of damage done to communities of color. The Philippines is no exception but ramshackle towns buried under mudslides and debris is no excuse for states to ignore the biggest existential threat of the 20th century: human-induced climate change.

Scientists say hurricanes and cyclones will only get stronger if countries won’t reduce gas emissions by 2020. Hong Kong needs to step up its environmental protection regulations if it wants to brave through the next typhoon by first sheltering its vulnerable civilian population.

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