Text and Photos by Henrylito D. Tacio
Every year, an average of 20 out of 36 tropical cyclones that develop over the Northwest Pacific basin cross the Philippines area of responsibility. “There is no month in the country which is free from typhoons,” the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said in a statement.
In a symposium on Status of Research and Development Program and Mitigation Strategies for Typhoon- and Flood-Prone Areas held at Los Baños, Laguna, some few years back, experts have observed that typhoon development in the country has been erratic in recent years and almost unpredictable with strongly varying movement and structure.
In the past, Mindanao was considered typhoon-free, but now cyclones no longer spare the island. This was particularly true in Davao Region, whose inhabitants never experienced typhoons in their lives. Not until Super Typhoon Pablo (international name: Washi) made landfall late on December 3, 2012. The storm caused widespread destruction in the region.
Last year, Super Typhoon (Rai) made landfall nine days before Christmas on Siargao Island. “Shortly after landfall with winds at 160 miles per hour (mph), it underwent an eyewall replacement cycle and decreased in strength, but winds remained at 150 mph,” a report said.
In 2011, Mindanao was also hit by another strong typhoon named Sendong (Washi). On December 16, severe tropical storm Sendong brought 10 hours of torrential rains that triggered disastrous flash flooding over Mindanao, an area that rarely experiences tropical cyclones.
Typhoons used to be moderate in Northern Luzon and Batanes, but it has completely changed as typhoons now frequent these areas. Global warming caused by climate change is cited as the most likely culprit of these changes.
“Weather patterns could become unpredictable, as would extreme weather events, hurricanes could become much stronger and more frequent,” wrote Lulu Bucay in a climate change brochure produced by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
In 2007, the Nobel prize-winning International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimated that sea levels might rise – as a result of climate change – by between 18 centimeters and 59 centimeters in the coming century. The Philippines ranks fourth in the Global Climate Risk Index. Fifteen of the 16 regions of the country are vulnerable to sea-level rise.
In Mindanao, a six-meter sea level rise in the Davao Gulf could submerge the coastal area of Davao City.
When he was still alive, city councilor Leonardo Avila III said in a forum that Agdao district, Panacan, Sta. Ana wharf, part of the Lanang, Bajada, and Matina areas, the whole downtown area, including the City Hall, will be completely underwater. “These areas will virtually be part of the Davao Gulf,” he said.
As a result, 40% of the city’s total population will be forced to evacuate to higher areas like the Buhangin district, Catalunan Grande, Calinan, Mintal, and Paquibato. Since the downtown area is already inundated, businesses also have to be relocated to higher areas.
In a conference on strengthening river basin organizations in Davao City in 2015, Lorenzo Tan, executive director of Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), declared: “If you see rising sea levels, Mindanao is at ground zero.”
Davao City was a case in point. It was among the 12 key cities in the country that was included in the Business Risk Assessment and the Management of Climate Change Impacts study done by WWF along with the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) Foundation Inc.
“The study was conducted to help city planners assess the impacts of climate change in their communities, identify opportunities and decide on a sustainability strategy, site-specific interventions that will allow the city to retain its economic viability,” Tan told Business World.
Tan noted that Davao runs a close second to Cebu in terms of tonnage shipped through its ports. “Located along the relatively shallow channel between the city and Samal Island, these port facilities are a nerve center for Davao City’s economy and serve a variety of ships handling both cargo and passengers,” the risk assessment said.
But sea-level rise may create some havoc in the near future. “Davao should take a close look at the city’s shipping fleet and port facilities and take the necessary steps to ensure that they are upgraded to deal with the impacts of climate change,” Tan suggested.
The World Bank sounded the same alarm in a report. “Climate change is occurring now and will intensify in the next few decades, threatening in particular developing nations, with the Philippines being one of the most vulnerable countries in the world,” said the report, Getting a Grip on Climate Change in the Philippines.
The report said the country is “already experiencing temperature increases; sea level rise; stronger storms, floods, and droughts; and ocean acidification, all of which will intensify and affect subsistence livelihoods as well as urban and coastal areas.”
It must be recalled that in 2009, the government passed the Climate Change Act, which enacted a set of climate-specific laws complemented by the creation of climate-specific institutions. These institutions aim to integrate and coordinate climate change at all levels of government – national, regional, and local – to improve financing, prioritization, and planning.
Although climate change affects everyone, “the poor, however, are usually more severely affected,” said Mary Ann Lucille Sering, then the head of the Climate Change Commission (CCC). She added that the greatest challenge poorer countries like the Philippines face these days “is that hard-earned development progress they have achieved in the last several decades could be reversed in a short time because of climate change.”
The World Bank report urges the Philippines “to improve its climate resilience and develop its adaptive capacity to alleviate the risk of catastrophic economic and humanitarian impacts.”
Director Nicomedes P. Eleazar of the Bureau of Agricultural Research hit the right nail when he said, “Science teaches us that if we act decisively and collectively, soon we can manage climate change. The sooner we act on this, the cheaper it will be for the country.”