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Cyclone Seroja in Timor Leste: Natural disasters in developing countries

In this week’s episode of the Be Loud: Climate podcast, Rux interviews Alex Ray who is a former UNDP communications lead and was based in Timor Leste during the tropical cyclone which caused mass devastation and loss of human life in April 2021. Alex relays the conditions in Timor Leste on topics such as basic education, healthcare and disaster preparedness prior to the cyclone, as well as the potential outlook for future climate related disasters on the island. Although shocking, this account of the impacts of climate related natural disasters is a reality for developing countries as the climate worsens and provides valuable perspective on the vast disparity between developed and developing countries as far as the impact of climate change.


You can listen to the episode on Spotify, Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, or listen directly here.


For many climate activists in the global north, it is challenging to consider the real impact of climate change on developing populations which are vulnerable to climate related natural disasters. As a point of reference, the level of poverty which exists in many of these places is not something which one can readily imagine for it is deeply entrenched in everyday life.


These challenges are all encompassing - from lack of basic education and high-levels of illiteracy to lack of energy infrastructure, high reliance on fossil fuels as a large part of national income and employment (GDP), housing, healthcare… the list goes on. Almost without exception these challenges also go hand-in-hand with high-levels of corruption within state institutions and misguided attempts at infrastructure projects which ultimately waste money and fail to have any meaningful impact.


With this as a baseline and then add a natural disaster into the mix. This can be the tipping point of an entire nation surviving going into full national collapse (as was the case in Haiti).


Our interview with Alex Ray on this week’s episode of the Be Loud: Climate podcast gives you an insight into what this situation looks like, and moreover the incredible development effort that will be needed for developing nations as the climate crisis worsens.


A simple insight into how mismatched climate policies are in the context of Timor Leste is the example of waste management. Owing to the brutal genocide that happened in Timor Leste and the transition towards independence in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, there is a significant lack of critical infrastructure, waste management being part of this.


In order to deal with their waste, it is common practice to burn it - something which causing enormous amounts of carbon emissions per capita in this small island nation. But without a way to dispose of their waste, this creates the potential for a health crisis and so, burning waste might be considered the ‘better’ option. How then would a country like Timor Leste be able to cut their emissions in the absence of establishing a waste management system? They wouldn’t.


On last week’s episode of the podcast, we similarly discussed how climate policies might leave the world’s poor behind and this is demonstrative of that exact point. For those struggling with access to energy, the options can be limited when attempting to make the energy transition to cleaner sources and in the face of poverty, the additional expense would make this transition even more impossible.


In a future episode of the podcast, we will be inviting an expert to tell us about the link between development and climate policies, because as you unpack this issue it becomes increasingly complicated. How do we get people out of poverty AND fight climate change?


At some point policy-makers will have to face this challenge - the intersectionality of the climate crisis is something which activists are increasingly focused on. A net-zero world is not enough. We have to ensure that we are bringing everyone with us and not living in our first-world housing with ample education, healthcare and housing, navel gazing at climate change through our privileged lenses.


What we will do with policies that fail to consider the intersectionality of the climate emergency is to impose a UN-mandated modern colonialism on developing countries who will be forced to comply with our guilt-inspired climate-friendly standards which work for developed countries and which not account for the huge effort that will be required to lift people out of poverty.


For more information on the cyclone in Timor Leste:



And to read Alex’s article: https://sway.office.com/hKu4aJEiC2L9sfBU?ref=Link&loc=play





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