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Philippines 'more and more vulnerable' to disasters - officials

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Sat, 23 Nov 2013 08:57 AM
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People carry bags of relief supply as they are seen through a damaged window frame in the typhoon-battered Tacloban city, the Philippines, on November 23, 2013. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
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WARSAW (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A spate of disasters in the Philippines that has caused substantial damage to agriculture, infrastructure and the economy, as well as a huge loss of lives, has underlined the need for stronger disaster management efforts and action to address climate change, experts said.

In the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 5,000 people in the central Philippines and left many thousands more homeless, climate and disaster experts said disaster preparedness need to be scaled down to the local level and long-term solutions found to avert devastation worsened by climate change.

Severe typhoons like Haiyan may be the "new normal" for the region, said Simon Allen from the University of Bern in Switzerland, one of the authors of a recently published Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. He told Thomson Reuters Foundation at the UN-backed climate talks in Warsaw that “the global frequency of tropical cyclones will change little (as a result of climate change) but the frequency of the most intense cyclones will increase in some regions.”

The Philippines, a low-lying country of over 100 million people, faces threats from more intense typhoons, dramatic changes in rainfall patterns, sea level rise, and increasing temperatures as a result of man-made climate change, experts said.

“There is a need for us to seriously look at our adaptation options to prepare for more, fiercer typhoons, floods, droughts and sea-level rise,” said Rosalina De Guzman, chief of the climate data section of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration.

De Guzman warned in an interview that climate projections for 2020 and 2050 are even grimmer with the dry season to become drier and the wet season wetter. Days of heavy rainfall will continue to increase in number in most part of the Philippines, she said, as will days of hot weather with maximum temperatures exceeding 35 degrees Celsius.

The Philippines was ranked as the country in 2012 with the second most severe weather-related disasters, after Haiti, according to a risk index released last week by the Germanwatch at the United Nations climate change summit in Warsaw.

The Philippines’ Climate Change Commission secretary said the index was a validation that poorer countries are “becoming more and more vulnerable” to potentially catastrophic impacts of climate change.

“Science has been telling us that there is an urgent need to mitigate and adapt. There is a need to scale up our national and local programs on climate change adaptation and disaster risk management with urgency,” Lucille Sering told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.

 In 2009, the government of the Philippines created the Climate Change Commission to put together a strategic framework to deal with climate change and serve as basis for climate planning, research and development, information knowledge management, and monitoring of activities on climate change.

The commission also recommends legislation, policies and programs for adaptation and mitigation activities.

‘THE EYE OF THE PERFECT STORM’

Sering said the Philippines is one of the countries with the “best comprehensive and integrated approach to climate change and risk reduction”. The Climate Change Commission, for instance, has formulated a National Framework Strategy on Climate Change, a National Climate Change Action Plan and guidelines for local climate change plans. These sit alongside the country’s National Action Plan for Disaster Risk Reduction.

“We have the best plans for climate change adaptation and for disaster risk management. We have been strengthening and integrating climate resilience into local ordinances, policies and plans, especially integrating climate resilience into the comprehensive land use plan,” Sering explained.

“But disasters of the magnitude and complexity of Typhoon Haiyan, even as prepared as we are, are just so overwhelming. We were in the eye of the perfect storm,” she said.

Sering said the Philippines, by nature of its geography, is particularly vulnerable to disasters. That, compounded by a growing population and enduring poverty, means most communities still struggle to cope with disasters despite major government initiatives to adapt to climate impacts and reduce disaster risk.

“We agree that the country has to strengthen and scale-up its climate change and disaster risk reduction programs and that we need to look into long-term solution to address climate change,” Sering said.

She said that despite the national budget allocated for climate change adaptation and mitigation increasing by 26 percent between 2008 and 2012, more than half the money had gone to flood-control infrastructure.

“Our budget is really on the reactive side,” she said.

For Albay Province Governor Joey Salceda, who sits as a co-chair of the Green Climate Fund, mainstreaming effective climate change adaptation and disaster risk management is the key.

“Stronger efficient management and cooperation in disaster response, disaster reduction, humanitarian aid as well as adaptation to climate change is clearly needed … for the country to be climate resilient,” Salceda said.

He added that adaptation and mitigation, as well as disaster risk management, must be pursued in the context of development, its goals in reducing poverty and its constraints on managing extreme weather event.

Rosa Perez, a climate scientist at the Manila Observatory, said mapping flood-prone areas could help improve land use to cut disaster risk. It makes sense to build settlements on areas not usually flooded, or establish setbacks from the coast or riverbanks, as well as build protective floodgates and other structures, she said. Access to climate projections and accurate weather forecasts, as well as early warning systems, could help too, she said.

Measures also “can be better customised for a particular place or system if we do a risk/vulnerability assessment,” she said.

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