Three in a row

/ 11:20 PM February 22, 2013

Tropical depression “Crising” jabbed Mindanao’s underbelly before it barreled out to sea on Thursday. May we now watch 33 candidates for 12 Senate seats sashay on stage?

Hold it. This is the third hurricane, in as many years, in a region where typhoons hit, at most, once every 12 years or so. Mindanao had been safely wedged below the upward beaten track of typhoons. But not anymore. “Crising is an ominous warning of climate change impact,” wrote Simon Tisdall of the United Kingdom’s Guardian. “The Philippines [must] adapt to rapidly deteriorating climatic trends at great cost…”


“Pablo” proved the world’s deadliest 2012 typhoon. It flattened much of Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley, with winds gusting up to 195 miles per hour. A Category-5 storm, Pablo packed more punch than the United States’ Category-2 Hurricane “Sandy.” A total of 1,067 corpses were recovered, but 800 remain missing.

“It’d take 10 years to replace the coconut crop,” estimates New Bataan Mayor Lorenzo Balbin. “Some villages in Compostela Valley may be too unsafe.” Today, 15,000 victims still huddle in evacuation centers. Another 200,000 are sheltered by relatives or friends.


Rewind to 2011. Tropical Storm “Sendong” battered Misamis Oriental and Lanao. Rains caused floods to surge 11 feet in an hour and wiped out a community perched on the “Isla de Oro” sandbar. In 1911, a storm dumped what was then a record rainfall of 46 inches within a 24-hour period on Baguio City. Sendong’s death toll exceeded 1,453. Some will never be accounted for.

These were macabre replays of November 1991, when Typhoon “Uring” ripped through Leyte. In Ormoc City, where Anilao River meanders to the sea, the delta island community of Isla Verde was wiped out. A memorial for the 8,000 people killed has been built since.

“How do we explain the decreasing number of years [in between the] occurrence of destructive typhoons affecting southern Philippines?” marine scientist and Ramon Magsaysay Awardee Angel Alcala asks. “Since the 1980s, typhoons hitting the country below the 10-degree latitude seem to be increasing in frequency at year’s end.”

Low-latitude typhoons destroy the coral reefs on their paths. Here, only 4 percent of the coral reefs remain in pristine condition. Pablo ravaged the Cantaan Giant Clam Sanctuary and shattered live coral cover in Camiguin. “Of greater concern is their effect on the biodiversity, including fishery,” Alcala says. “We stand to lose seafood sources on which coastal communities depend.”

Mean temperatures are rising by 0.14C per decade, says the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  Since the 1980s, annual mean rainfall increased. “Yet two of the severest droughts ever recorded occurred in 1991-92 and 1997-98.”

“Trees fail to flower,” Aeta huddled at the Bataan mountaintop meeting told Fr. Shay Cullen. “Bees are disappearing. Storms blow away our nipa huts as never before.” The Aeta echo what scientists elsewhere note, Viewpoint (Inquirer, 8/ 27/12) pointed out.

Large numbers of bats that pollinate plants are threatened, says the Mammal Review. At the University of Bern, experiments on 1,634 plant species show “spring flowering and leafing advances five to six days per year for every degree Celsius of warming,” the journal Nature reports. The additional water needed by a plant community that sprouts a week earlier is staggering.


Scientists track steadily rising sea levels around the Philippines—and slumping water tables. Floods swamped the Philippines last year. The most severe drought in half a century blistered the United States and swaths of Eastern Europe.

The Arctic ice cap is melting at speeds never recorded since satellite monitoring began 30 years back,  the Norwegian Polar Institute cautions. “We want our children to live in an America that … isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet,” President Barack Obama said in his 2013 State of the Union message.

Warming seas here now wash farther inland. A 20-centimeter sea-level rise estimate, over the next 40 years, is obsolete. This affects food production through land erosion and degradation.

Typhoon-related costs, since the Philippine government set up its Climate Change Commission in 2009, crested at 2.9 percent of GDP. They’ve been spiraling more since, reports Commissioner Mary Ann Lucille Sering. “Extreme weather is the new normal… Opinion surveys show Filipinos rated global warming as a bigger threat than rising food and fuel prices.”

“Every year I hope governments will provide leadership humanity so badly needs,” Kumi Naidoo of Guardian Professional wrote. I hope they’ll act beyond short-sighted electoral cycles and the corrupt influence of elites.

At the UN Climate Talks in Doha, we heard Commissioner Narevdev Sano of the Philippines’ Climate Change Commission say: “We have never had a typhoon like ‘Bopha’ (Pablo) wreak havoc in a part of the country that never saw a storm like this in half a century …. Other countries face the same threat. We must take responsibility for the future we want. If not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?”

“Survival” is the key word in the kilometric title of Republic Act No. 10171. It authorizes President Aquino to sign a check, up to P1 billion annually, to ward off weather gone out of whack. The new law is a first response to growing clamor for action. More needs to be done.

“My prediction is that in 2013, countries will start listening more,” Naidoo adds. Women’s movements, trade unions and religious organizations will seek to avert catastrophic climate change. “There are no decent jobs on a dead planet.”

(E-mail: [email protected] )

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TAGS: change, Climate, Crising, Disaster, environment, Juan L. Mercado, Mindanao, opinion, Pablo, Sendong, Viewpoint, weather
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