Per early assessments, Supertyphoon “Rolly,” the 18th storm to hit the Philippines this year, left in its wake 20 dead, affected 2.1 million in Luzon, displaced 372,381 people, left 53,863 homes without electricity, toppled communication and power transmission lines, and caused over P6 billion in damage to agriculture and public infrastructure, including roads, bridges, public buildings, and flood control structures.
While it eventually weakened when it made landfall, “Rolly” would be the third monster typhoon to hit the Philippines in eight years, after “Yolanda” in 2013 and “Ferdie” in 2016—a grave reminder that the Philippines is facing ever-greater odds due to climate change.
This is, of course, on top of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has also brought to the fore the issues of climate change and environmental destruction affecting the transmission of infectious diseases.
The Global Peace Index 2019, which rates countries according to peacefulness, ranked the Philippines as the country most susceptible to hazards brought about by climate change. It noted that 47 percent of the country’s population live in areas highly exposed to climate hazards including earthquakes, tsunami, floods, typhoons, and drought.
The Global Climate Risk Index 2020, on the other hand, presented at the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP 25) in Madrid in December last year, said Japan, the Philippines, and Germany were the most affected by extreme weather events for 2018, suffering the most due to their vulnerability and low coping capacity.
In its climate change risk profile of the Philippines, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) attributed the country’s vulnerability to its high exposure to natural hazards such as typhoons, landslides, floods and droughts; and its dependence on climate-sensitive natural resources and vast coastlines where the majority of the population live on increasingly depleted natural and marine resources. It further noted that sea levels in the Philippines are rising faster than the global average, putting the population at risk of storm surges and flooding.
For years, the government has been talking about disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation and mitigation, “building back better,” and other soothing platitudes, especially in the wake of yet another natural calamity. And yet, year in and year out, Filipinos die, lose their homes and livelihoods from natural disasters, and government is overwhelmed by disaster response needs. The need for permanent evacuation centers has always been there given the recurring pattern of calamities in the country, and yet few LGUs have had the vision to pursue this course of action, resorting every time to commandeering schools and other temporary shelters. The pandemic has made the problem acutely worse, with the need for more expansive space and basic health facilities (such as running water) to allow for physical distancing and other safety protocols among evacuees.
The Philippines has committed to pushing the implementation this year of the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius through the lowering of greenhouse gas emissions. Countries are expected to submit their gas emission targets, called the Nationally Determined Contributions, this year.
But apart from joining the global response to climate emergency, the country must now seriously examine its game plan to make the country better equipped to cope with climate change hazards.
Filipino climate scientists have urged the government to declare a “climate emergency,” to underline the urgency of the situation at hand. In a resolution submitted in February to the Climate Change Commission, the National Panel of Technical Experts (NPTE) pointed out that using the term “climate change” is no longer sufficient. “It is time to shift from using the term ‘climate change,’ a declaration of an observation, to ‘climate emergency,’ a call to action,” they said.
The NPTE scientists said that “As one of the most climatically vulnerable countries in the world, the Philippines should mobilize its people, institutions, and resources to enhance its ability to prepare and even prosper amidst the climate emergency.” Specifically, data such as natural hazards, exposure levels, and vulnerabilities that would impact on cities and municipalities across the country should be consolidated in a single platform for comprehensive analysis, as a serious start toward the “critical work” of climate risk assessment.
Supertyphoon “Rolly” is the latest shuddering warning that there is no time to lose to fortify the country against the looming climate emergency. Without a comprehensive and coherent response in place, the country stands to suffer even more catastrophic disasters.
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