A legacy defined by natural disasters | Inquirer Opinion
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A legacy defined by natural disasters

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We are in for a record extreme heat this summer, judging by the extreme advice we’re hearing from our public officials.

Women should skip wearing underwear at home to fight the extreme heat, as advised by former health secretary and now Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin. Don’t flush the toilet on a single urination, to save on water in this very dry season, suggested Task Force El Niño spokersperson and Communications Assistant Joey Villarama. Avoid the bidet and use a tabo instead, Villarama added.

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In just the first three days of April, multiple cities and municipalities across the country ordered the suspension of classes because of extreme heat forecast that will be unbearable for schoolchildren. On April 1, the heat index reached 45 degrees Celsius in Dagupan City, Pangasinan. On April 2, a heat index of 46 degrees was experienced in Guiuan, Eastern Samar. Numerous other localities from Mindanao to Northern Luzon experienced a heat index ranging from 42 to 43 degrees this early April. A heat index from 42 to 51 degrees is in the “danger” level, according to experts.

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We’re just on the second week after the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) announced the beginning of the summer season last March 22, and we’ve been experiencing extreme heat indices since then. The heat index may reach 50 degrees before summer ends, according to Pagasa. Even government work has begun to be disrupted by the extreme heat. The Office of Civil Defense of Region XII has declared suspension of work in all 11 local government units of Sultan Kudarat province from April 1 to 15, 2024 because of the extreme heat.

Record heat is being felt all over the world. National heat records are being broken in numerous countries in Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Africa. The three-month winter season that ended with February was the warmest on record for the globe, according to scientists. In temperate countries, cities are experiencing summer-like heat at this time when they would normally be enjoying cool spring. In one locality in Washington, United States of America, on a day last March, the previous heat record was smashed by a whopping increase of 16 degrees.

Weather scientists have sounded the alarm that for nine months in a row—from June 2023 to February 2024—each month has set new heat records. Scientists expect that the month March 2024 will also mark our planet’s 10th straight record-setting month. “Sirens are blaring across all major indicators,” said United Nations Secretary General António Guterres recently. “Some records aren’t just chart-topping, they’re chart-busting. And changes are speeding up.”

Scientists are also alarmed and astonished by warmer temperatures across the world’s oceans. “We’re now at one year and counting of shattering the previous records for ocean heat,” said a University of Miami scientist. If the record ocean heat continues beyond August 2024, experts say that “the world will be in uncharted territory.”

Apart from school and work stoppages, the extreme heat has caused and will cause more electricity disruptions. With almost P2 billion in damage to our agriculture already sustained as of mid-March, our farmers face the specter of more losses as the heat wave extends its run. We should also brace for supply-disrupting mortality in our livestock industry as chicken and pigs may be severely affected by the extreme heat. And with record heat in sea temperatures, there will be questions on the reliability of seafood supply.

Our country’s response to environmental disasters have largely been reactive. We wait for disasters to happen, and only then do we react with actions meant to address the damage done. Even our relevant government agencies are viewed and referred to as disaster response offices. With chart-topping heat records happening, and with increasing indications that these temperature abnormalities may become the norm, our government should set up permanent offices that must come up with programs that will proactively anticipate, mitigate, and prospectively address extreme heat and even flooding disasters.

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The disasters that we stand to face due to climate change will affect all aspects of our lives with far graver and longer-lasting consequences compared to whatever problems preoccupy our leaders’ minds. It will seriously impact even the political future of our country because the expected discontent and disillusionment of our people on the inadequacy of government response and assistance will serve to further misguide our people in yearning for the return of autocratic rule, however disastrous it has been during the past administration.

Ditch the silly attempt to amend the Constitution. Ditch the pointless travel junkets. Ditch the trivial Maharlika Investment Fund. The legacy of the current government will not come from any of these. Its legacy will be defined by its action or inaction on a likely tsunami of natural disasters headed our way.

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