Philippine climate envoy to end epic walk at typhoon haiyan ground zero in Tacloban

A Nov 19, 2013 picture shows the Philippines' head negotiator Naderev Sano (centre) and supporters holding banners at the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP 19 in Warsaw, Poland. Sano will on Saturday reach ground zero of the strongest typh
A Nov 19, 2013 picture shows the Philippines' head negotiator Naderev Sano (centre) and supporters holding banners at the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP 19 in Warsaw, Poland. Sano will on Saturday reach ground zero of the strongest typhoon ever to hit land, completing an epic march he believes will help spur global warming action. -- PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (AFP) - Philippine climate change envoy Naderev Sano will on Saturday reach ground zero of the strongest typhoon ever to hit land, completing an epic march he believes will help spur global warming action.

Sano will end his 1,000-km trek in Tacloban, a major city in the central Philippines that was among the worst hit when Super Typhoon Haiyan crashed in off the Pacific Ocean exactly one year ago.

"It's been a wonderful journey. Physically, the walk is starting to take a toll on my leg...but everyone is in high spirits and so am I," Sano told AFP as he reached the final rest-stop in the typhoon-damaged town of Basey.

Sano and 12 other walkers have travelled an average of 25 km a day since leaving the nation's capital, Manila, more than a month ago.

Sano, the Philippine representative to the United Nations' climate change negotiations, made world headlines last year when he fasted during the annual summit in Poland to protest the lack of meaningful progress on 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.

The walk is also a show of solidarity for the millions of survivors of Haiyan, many of whom are enduring brutal poverty and living in areas that leave them dangerously exposed to the next big storm.

Haiyan left more than 7,350 people dead or missing as winds of 315 km 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.

- Environment heroes -

A more tangible outcome of the journey was the overwhelming support of the local communities that the walkers have passed through, according to Sano.

"At the least, every person who 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 organising with their own communities to protect their natural resources."

Sano said every local government in the 40 towns they stopped in along the way had also signed commitments to take their own action on climate change, including developing strategies to cope with stronger storms.

Sano said 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. Sano 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 Haiyan.

"I was personally anticipating a solemn atmosphere but what we got was a rousing welcome... I got teary eyed, many walkers got teary eyed," he said.