ENVIRONMENT: Philippines more prone to climate change consequences

A bridge was destroyed in Iligan City after typhoon Sendong hit the city.

This one is for Ripley’s Believe It Or Not: Too much rain and floods during the summer season and scorching heat of the sun during the rainy season. What is happening to our weather these days? According to experts, this is due to climate change.

This month of the year is supposed to be the dry season. But rains continue to pour in most parts of Davao Region. In fact, some parts of the region – Davao de Oro, Davao Oriental, and Davao City – were inundated.

As a result of continuous rain in Davao de Oro, a landslide happened in Masara, Maco. As of this writing, the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (MDRRMO) reported about 15 people dead and some 110 are still unaccounted for.

The Philippines, home to almost 90 million people, is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change, pointed out Dr. Rodel D. Lasco, a member of the Nobel-prize awarded United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

For one, the country has a long coastline where millions of people live including in urban centers such as Metro Manila, Cagayan de Oro, Cebu, General Santos, Iloilo, and Davao.

As early as 2007, the IPCC estimated that sea levels might rise by between 18 centimeters and 59 centimeters in the coming century. The Philippines ranks fourth in the Global Climate Risk Index. Fifteen of the 16 regions of the Philippines are vulnerable to sea level rise.

“The global warming is very simple,” said Dr. Robert Watson, chairman of the United Nations’ IPCC. There are increasing emissions of greenhouse gases and thus their concentrations in the atmosphere are going up. As these concentrations increase, the temperature of the earth rises.

In Mindanao, a six-meter sea level rise in the Davao Gulf could submerge the coastal area of Davao City. Some years back, it was reported that Agdao district, Panacan, Sta. Ana wharf, part of the Lanang, Bajada and Matina areas, the whole of the downtown area, including the City Hall, would be completely under water. These areas will virtually be part of the Davao Gulf.

As a result of this event, 40% of the city’s population will be forced to evacuate to higher areas like the Buhangin district, Catalunan Grande, Calinan, Mintal, and Paquibato. Since the downtown area is already inundated, businesses also have to be relocated to higher areas.

But Davao City is not alone. Coastal barangays from Carmen, Davao del Norte to Panabo City and Digos City will also be greatly inundated.

Other provinces in Mindanao vulnerable to sea level rise are Sulu, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga Sibugay, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, and Maguindanao. All these will be erased from the map of the Philippines, according to Greenpeace, an international environment watch group.

Experts claim that a continuing rise in average global sea level would inundate parts of many heavily populated river deltas and the cities on them, making them uninhabitable, and would destroy many beaches around the world.

Most experts believe the critical year for the sea level rise would be 2050. As such, they urged that the present generation should do something now to mitigate the impending danger. They also suggested that all government projects and programs should be constructed above the 12-meter safety margin.

Rising temperatures will also spur changes in rainfall patterns. Weather patterns (in the Philippines) may change with projections of higher rainfall and drier summers, Dr. Lasco said. These could adversely affect millions of hectares of farm lands. In the rainy season, there will be more frequent floods and in the dry season, there will be less water available for irrigation. Overall, it also threatens food security.

Father Jesus Ramon Villarin, SJ in a paper he co-wrote in 2006 study observed that the rainfall over northern coast of Mindanao has generally increased over decades, with the northeast section receiving most of the increase. But the southern regions are experiencing decreasing rainfall, mostly in the south central parts.

“We are losing the micro-climate,” Father Villarin deplored. Rainfall is changing in Mindanao. The impact of the rainfall changes over major croplands is high in the cultivated and managed area of southern Mindanao, including areas on the northern coast of the Davao Gulf.

The problem of water scarcity is soon to happen if it is not yet happening. Water is worth more than gold and necessary for survival above all other resources on earth,” said a feature published by the defunct South Review.

Water is fundamental for life and health. “The human right to water is indispensable for leading a healthy life in human dignity,” the UN Committee on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights pointed out. “It is a prerequisite to the realization of all other human rights.”

A person needs at least 24 liters of water daily or one liter per hour. A household of five needs at least 120 liters per day to meet basic needs – for drinking, food preparation, cooking and cleaning up, washing and personal hygiene, laundry, house cleaning, according to the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute, a global environmental group.

While the country is still not “water stressed,” it already has areas suffering from water scarcity. Four river basins – Pampanga, Agno, Pasig-Laguna, and the island of Cebu – are experiencing water scarcity from time to time.

During summer months, many residents of Metro Manila – home to more than 10 million people – are coping with the “water supply crisis.” Metro Cebu in the Visayas and Davao City in Mindanao are already experiencing the same status.

The three major cities – along with six others (Angeles, Bacolod, Baguio, Cagayan de Oro, Iloilo, and Zamboanga) – were identified by a study done by the Japan International Cooperation Agency in 1991 to be “water-critical areas.”

In some instances, there is also the problem of too much water. Thanks to typhoons. Every year, the Philippines is buffeted by typhoons, which kill scores of people and damage billions of pesos worth of properties.

Normally, the country experiences tropical cyclones of up to 20 a year. But in recent years, stronger typhoons have become more frequent. Climate change is expected to exacerbate this extreme event, warned Dr. Lasco.

Droughts have also become common. The 1992-1993 droughts caused long forest fires in Mindanao and other parts of the country. Major drought events have been identified with the El Nino episodes in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific.

“The climatic change is unlike any witnessed during the past two millenniums,” experts deplored.

The 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro cited the greenhouse effect and the depletion of the earth’s protective ozone layer have assumed dangerous proportions and present an inestimable challenge to mankind.

Greenhouse gases produce the greenhouse effect, which traps heat near the earth’s surface, maintaining a relatively constant temperature.

Many human activities increase the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which can result in a gradual increase in the earth’s surface temperature, a process called global warming.

Climate change accounts for more than 300,000 deaths per year around the world and $125 billion of economic losses annually, creating conditions where more people feel the effects of natural disasters or suffer environmental degradation, according to The Human Impact Report: Climate Change: The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis.

Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas. It occurs naturally and is vital to life, but excessive quantities of it are released by burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas). Other greenhouse gases are almost exclusively produced by human activity such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which are used as refrigerants.

Still other greenhouse gases include methane, nitrogen compounds, and ozone. Experts claim about 80% of global warming is due to increases in all these gases.

Deforestation is believed to account for the other 20%. Science tells us that plants incorporate carbon dioxide into their bodies during photosynthesis. Fewer trees caused by deforestation mean less intake of carbon dioxide. In addition, burning this wood (along with fossil fuels) sends the carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere at an accelerated rate.

The consequences of global climate change are so pressing that it doesn’t matter who was responsible for the past; what matters is who is responsible for the future and that means all of us, declared actor Arnold Schwarzenegger when he was still the governor of California.

As the Last Action Hero added, rich nations and the poor nations have different responsibilities but there is one responsibility we all have, and that is action, action, action, action!

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