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UN on RP disasters: Worst yet to come

By Philip Tubeza
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:04:00 10/28/2009

Filed Under: Weather, Disasters (general), Climate Change, Flood, Ondoy, Pepeng, Environmental Issues

MANILA, Philippines?Storms worse than ?Ondoy? and ?Pepeng? will hit the Philippines in the coming years, but the country is one of the least prepared nations in Southeast Asia to cope with natural disasters, a United Nations official warned Tuesday.

Jerry Velasquez, senior regional coordinator of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) agency, said the Philippines was even worse than military-ruled Burma (Myanmar) in coping with natural calamities.

Saying the worst calamities were yet to come, Velasquez stressed: ?The period of talking is now over?the time for action has begun.?

Velasquez, a Filipino, spoke at a hearing of the Senate committee on climate change, chaired by Sen. Loren Legarda, held at Barangay Nangka in Marikina City, one of the areas worst hit by floods triggered by Tropical Storm Ondoy (international codename: Ketsana) last month.

Painting a grim scenario, the UN official cited studies that projected a massive destruction of Philippine rice crops in a little over a decade owing to climate change, and severe flooding in Metro Manila affecting 2.5 million people by the year 2080.

Velasquez said the Philippines ranked 12th among 200 countries at risk from tropical cyclones, floods, earthquakes and landslides.

Hot spot

An April 2009 UN study found that, ?in coping capacity to disasters,? the Philippines ranks seventh among the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), just behind Laos, Malaysia and Burma, Velasquez said.

?The Philippines is one of the very hot spots for climate change. What happened during Ondoy and Pepeng was not the worst. The worst is still to come,? he added.

Also prone to natural disasters, Burma suffered one of the worst natural disasters in living memory when cyclone Nargis slammed it in May 2008, killing 10,000 people in one town alone. UN officials estimated over 100,000 perished altogether in the cyclone, while 2.4 million people were affected.

Velasquez said coping capacity referred to a country?s capacity for hazard evaluation, structural defenses, early warning, emergency response, insurance and disaster funds, and reconstruction and rehabilitation planning.

Yet among the ASEAN countries, the Philippines was the last to ratify the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response, Velasquez said.

?Indonesia copied from the Philippines in developing its disaster risk management legislation (but) that country was able to get its legislation adopted way back 2007, while the Philippines is yet to pass its own bill in Congress,? he said.

Deadly trio

Velasquez cited a UNISDR global assessment report on disaster risk reduction, which noted that Japan had 22.5 million people exposed to typhoons annually, compared to just 16 million people in the Philippines.

?However, the estimated annual death toll from cyclones in the Philippines is almost 17 times greater than that of Japan,? he said.

He said the study found that the ?deadly trio? that worsen natural disasters were ?poor urban government, unstable rural livelihood, and ecosystem decline.?

?So it?s not God who is doing it. It?s man who is at fault,? Velasquez said.

Velasquez said that one study showed that the Philippines had a ?medium adaptive capacity? to climate change, ?together with Indonesia and just above Cambodia and (Laos).?

?Vietnam, although faced with high threats of climate hazards, has high levels (of) coping and adaptive capacities, lowering considerably its risks to climate-related disasters,? Velasquez said.

Metro Manila vulnerable

Velasquez said a January 2009 study funded by Canada and Sweden found that among ASEAN countries, ?the Philippines is a hot spot for cyclones, landslides, floods and droughts.?

?In fact, according to this study?s ?multiple climate hazard index,? the Philippines received a rank of 0.6 to 1.0, the highest among all countries in the ASEAN,? Velasquez said.

?The same study listed the most vulnerable provinces or districts in Southeast Asia, and found that the National Capital region ranks 7th among all cities in the ASEAN, with the Cordilleras 27th and Central Luzon 30th,? he said.

Velasquez urged the Philippines to improve its disaster-coping capability.

?A single event cannot be attributed to climate change because the climate system is in constant state of flux and has always exhibited natural fluctuations and extreme conditions,? Velasquez said.

He said extreme weather events like Ondoy and Pepeng were consistent with the trend that a group of renowned scientists belonging to the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had identified.

?According to the IPCC, there is a 90 percent chance that things will get worse in the future,? he added.

Vulnerable to floods

Velasquez said the IPCC projected there would be an ?increase in intense precipitation events? (or rainfall) and ?an increase of 20 percent in tropical cyclone intensity and the amplification in storm surge heights, resulting in an enhanced risk of coastal disasters.?

?Philippine climate scenarios predict an increase in temperature for the Philippines up to 1.8 C by 2020, up to 2.4 C by 2050 and up to 3.6 C by 2080,? he said.

?Similar scenarios also predict that by 2050, there will be up to 20 percent decrease in precipitation for the Philippines for the months of December, January and February, and up to 16 percent increase in precipitation in the months of June, July, and August,? he added.

Velasquez said environmentalists had predicted that a 100-centimeter rise in sea-level?to be reached by 2080 under one of IPCC?s scenarios?would lead to over 5,000 hectares of the Manila Bay area being ?regularly inundated, affecting 2.5 million people.?

Sea levels up by 40 cm

He said the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Administration (PAGASA) already noted that sea levels had risen by 40 centimeters (cm) in Manila and by 20 cm in Davao and Legazpi.

The Asian Development Bank has also warned that rice production in the country could drop by 50 to 70 percent as early as 2020 due to increasing temperatures, Velasquez said.

?A recent Oxfam study found that sea level rise, floods that damage fish farms, and the increased acidification of the oceans could reduce by 90 percent farmed fish yield by 2050,? he said.

Breathless anticipation

Velasquez said that with the signing into law of the Philippine Climate Change Act of 2009, ?hopes are high that the new law?s focus on strong government-wide coordination, high-level leadership, links to science, and local level action, will be necessary ingredients to ensure immediate, comprehensive and sustained action by the Philippines in the face of this climate crisis.?

?It is one of the most comprehensive and the most integrated legislation so far in the region. We now wait with breathless anticipation,? he said. With reports from Inquirer Research



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