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UN chief: Severe storms like Typhoon Haiyan, Sandy are 'wake-up calls'

A Filipino father and his children wait for

A Filipino father and his children wait for food from relief workers outside their makeshift tent in the typhoon-devastated city of Tacloban, Philippines. (Nov. 10, 2013) Credit: EPA

UNITED NATIONS -- Both Typhoon Haiyan and superstorm Sandy are "wake-up calls" for policymakers, said UN officials who urge them to pay more attention to what they see as the disastrous effects of climate change.

The storms were a warning "for all [of the] international community that we must accelerate our efforts to fight climate change," said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking in Lithuania Monday. "We have experienced extreme weather patterns not only in the Philippines. . . . Even in the center of the United Nations in New York, in Manhattan. The United Nations was also flooded by Sandy Storm. . . . That is the impact of climate change."

Ban made his comments before traveling to Warsaw, Poland, for a UN-sponsored conference on climate change, as humanitarian workers continued to help victims of the storm on the ground in the Philippines and appeal to the international community for up to $301 million in relief aid.

By Friday, $72 million of the goal had been received, UN officials said.

"Everybody now knows that climate change is happening and approaching much faster than we might have thought," he said. "That is why I am going to Poland, Warsaw, where I will be meeting many world leaders and ministers to ask them to raise their political awareness and political leadership role, and mobilize all necessary means, particularly financial support for developing countries so that they will be able to mitigate and adapt to this changing situation. . . . This is imperative."

Haiyan has so far caused 3,976 confirmed deaths, according to figures from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council of the Philippines.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that as many as 13 million people have been affected by the typhoon that many experts have said is the strongest to strike in a century.

Of those, 4 million people have been displaced and 2 million need food aid, according to OCHA, said UN spokesman Farhan Haq at a news conference at the UN's Manhattan headquarters Monday.

The U.S. government has pledged $20 million in immediate humanitarian assistance to victims and the U.S. Agency for International Development dispatched a Disaster Assistance Response Team and Response Management Team.

"Science clearly shows that a significant degree of climate change is unavoidable, as has been confirmed by the latest findings of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Typhoon Haiyan has been the latest in a string of worsening extreme weather events around the world, and we know there are more to come," said the Warsaw conference's executive secretary, Christiana Figueres.

The UN's World Meteorological Organization, which attended the Warsaw conference, called Typhoon Haiyan "the strongest tropical cyclone so far this year and one of the most intense on record."

It also has said that 2013 is on track to be one of the 10 warmest years since modern records began in 1850.

"The first nine months, January to September, tied with 2003 as the seventh warmest such period on record, with a global land and ocean surface temperature of about .48 degrees C (.86 degrees F) above the 1961-1990 average," the organization said.

Haq said scientists have reached consensus that warmer temperatures can produce more severe storms like Sandy and Haiyan.

But Joey Picca, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Upton, said the picture is more complex.

"Basically, there are many competing factors," he said. "The fact is there are many things in the atmosphere that go into producing a very strong hurricane or typhoon. When we're dealing with hurricanes, it's not just the warmth of the water."

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