By Henrylito D. Tacio
“Climate is changing and will continue to do so. Currently, the impacts on many sectors are still unclear, but may become more pronounced as warming continues. So, we need to focus on understanding, adaptation, and preparation. We, Filipinos, should reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, but for the right reasons.” – Dr. Rosa Perez, a research fellow of the Manila Observatory
If there’s a country that is susceptible to the consequences of climate change, it’s the Philippines. As the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) puts it: “The Philippines is extremely vulnerable to the ravages of climate change.”
With a coastline of 18,000 kilometers, the Philippines is very vulnerable to sea level rise. “A continuing rise in average global sea level would inundate parts of many heavily populated river deltas and the cities on them, making them uninhabitable, and would destroy many beaches around the world,” said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of 2,000 scientists which advises the United Nations.
Even if the sea level rises only by one meter, the result will still be devastating to the country. An analysis made by the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) Climate Change Program listed ten provinces that would be inundated.
Although Davao City is not in the said list, WWF’s Business Risk Assessment and the Management of Climate Change Impacts has included the city as one the country’s cities in danger.
“Davao City is likely to face the impacts of sea level rise, increases in sea surface temperatures, ocean acidification, and inter-annual variability of rainfall,” the WWF report said. “It is also likely that Davao will become the refuge of many migrants –a trend, which has already begun.”
Some years back, a flood hazard mapping and vulnerability analysis was undertaken for Davao City by Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA). Based on the information gathered from actual interviews, surveys, topographic and geomorphologic analysis, barangays that are prone to flooding have been identified on the alluvial floodplain of Davao and Talomo Rivers.
These include the barangays of City Poblacion District: 1, 2, 5, 8, 9 12, 19, 21, 22, 23, and 40-D; Talomo District; Talomo Proper, Bucana, Ma-am Matina Crossing, Matina Aplaya, Bago Aplaya; Buhangin District: Tigatto, Buhangin Mandug, Waan and Callawa; Agdao District: Agdao, Gov. Vicente Duterte, Centro and Lapu-Lapu; and Tugbok District: New Valencia, Talandang, and New Carmen.
“Their geographical location, being close to Davao Gulf and river channels make them highly vulnerable to flood hazard,” the country’s weather bureau said.
Sea level rise will also endanger the drinking water quality of the city. For more than four decades now, Davao City has been heavily reliant on groundwater. With more people clamoring for water, the water is being extracted at a faster pace.
“If groundwater decreases relative to sea level, saltwater can seep through the deep well and contaminate the water supply,” Apo Agua contends.
With sea level rise, salt intrusion becomes a certainty. It must be recalled that the Philippine Human Development Report once reported that one of every five residents quaffs water from dubious sources in 24 provinces.
But it’s not only sea level rise and salt intrusion that Davao City and some parts of Mindanao will suffer from. Typhoons – of which 20 of them enter our area of responsibility – will become stronger and more violent. “The World Bank estimates the annual typhon season typically shaves 0.8% points off our annual gross domestic product,” said former environment secretary Ramon J.P. Paje.
Small wonder, our country is ranked the third most vulnerable to climate change in a United Nations survey. “Weather patterns could become unpredictable, as would extreme weather events, hurricanes could become much stronger and more frequent,” wrote Lulu Bucay in a brochure published by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
“Climate change science does predict more extreme weather events, and the disaster trend in Mindanao is worrisome,” said Joe Curry, country representative for aid agency Catholic Relief Services (CRS). “Mindanao is not normally in the path of typhoons.”
History records show that between 1945 and 2010, only 35 typhoons made landfall in Mindanao. That’s about one every two years. The two recent typhoons that hit Mindanao were Sendong (which devastated the cities of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro) and Pablo (which left some parts of Davao region completely ruined).
“Mindanao is traditionally ‘outside the typhoon’ belt,” wrote former Press Secretary Jesus Dureza in his column for a local daily. “Although typhoons are born in the Pacific Ocean east of the island, they start their westerly course northwards and always miss us. In fact, Mindanao boasts of its comparative advantage in agriculture in that we are immune and free from typhoons.”
But there’s good news. In the WFF study, Davao City has been observed to be “the least vulnerable city” among the cities identified.
“It has the opportunity to do things the right way,” the study said. “It has a good hold of sustainable development in water, power, food security driven by agriculture, climate smart zoning, mass transit, land use and infrastructure as well as efficient land and sea access to centers of development nationwide.”
The WWF study suggested: “The trick is to maintain this sustainability over the decades ahead when climate change impacts are expected to worsen in other cities.”
Katherine Richardson, a climate scientist at the University of Copenhagen, urged: “We have to act and we have to act now. We need to realize what a risk it is they are taking on behalf of their own constituents, the world’s societies and, even more importantly, future generations.”
“Without effective action, climate change is going to be larger and more difficult to deal with than we thought,” warned Chris Field, coordinating lead author of the IPCC report.