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No debate: Deluge due to climate change

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 04:05:00 09/30/2009

Filed Under: Ondoy, Flood, Disasters & Accidents, Government, Weather, Climate Change

MANILA, Philippines?The massive floods that inundated Metro Manila were a chilling reminder of the need to seriously address climate change, experts said, warning that the lives of millions were at stake.

More rain fell on Manila and surrounding regions in nine hours on Saturday than the amount Hurricane ?Katrina? dumped on New Orleans in 2005.

The ferocity of Tropical Storm ?Ondoy? (international codename: Ketsana) shocked even seasoned experts in this country where an average 20 typhoons hit every year, but they said it continued a recent pattern of unusually bad weather.

Civil defense chief Anthony Golez and chief weather forecaster Prisco Nilo said they were puzzled by strange changes in the behavior of the typhoons over the past two years.

In early 2007, three typhoons hit the country, with an unusual one in February triggering a landslide that killed 250 people in Southern Leyte province, Golez said.

The typhoons also deviated from their traditional paths during the month of June, traversing the northern and central parts of Luzon for the first time.

?Very strange years?

?When you try to scientifically observe the data ? we will find this year and last year as very strange years, and we can only presuppose that this is due to climate change,? Golez said.

Middle-class enclaves

Saturday?s flooding that overwhelmed large parts of the sprawling metropolis of 12 million people, including gated middle-class enclaves which had never been flooded in the past.

?We can?t just blame this on the rain. We know this is the worst deluge in 40 years. We know there is climate change happening, there is no debate about that,? Greenpeace campaigner Mark Dia said on local television.

Need for global accord

?This is just a glimpse of what will happen. This is not even a super typhoon. We need to be prepared. This is just a taste of things to come. We need to have more preparations and we need to factor in climate change.?

In Bangkok, UN climate chief Yvo de Boer on Monday said the Philippine floods highlighted the need for the world to agree on a global warming pact by a December deadline during talks in Copenhagen.

A global accord would ensure that ?the frequency and severity of those kinds of extreme weather events decreases as a result of ambitious climate change policy,? De Boer said.

Wake-up call

Jose Bersales, humanitarian and emergency affairs director at charity World Vision, warned that the Philippine storm was likely a taste of more doom for the world?s poorest, who often are the least prepared for storms.

?This has to be a wake-up call for the world as it prepares for the climate change talks in Copenhagen later this year,? Bersales said.

More intense storms

World Vision quoted recent forecasts by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that tropical storms would become more intense, have stronger peak wind speeds and heavier precipitation.

This phenomenon would have a disproportionate impact on the Philippines, it said.

With 43 percent of the population, or 36 million people, living on less than two dollars a day and with only one doctor for every 1,700 people, the impact of major disasters on the Philippines will become more devastating, World Vision said.

And with an archipelagic coastline of 36,289 kilometers, the country is vulnerable to rising sea levels, another consequence of climate change, the charity added.

?Millions in the Philippines must be helped to prepare for worsening wind storm disasters,? the charity said.

Time has run out

Research by British charity Oxfam showed that the number of people affected by climate crises worldwide was projected to rise 54 percent to 375 million over the next six years.

?Time is not just pressing, it has almost run out,? said De Boer, who broke down in tears of frustration at talks in Bali two years ago, when world governments drew up the ?road map? to the Copenhagen deadline.

After two years of haggling, the world is still trying to thrash out a draft text for December?s talks, with major disagreements on the two key issues of cutting carbon emissions and meeting the associated costs.

Agence France-Presse

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