August 27, 2011 (1:35 PM)

5 min read


Disasters are unfortunate but are important opportunities to understand where loss originates. Tropical cyclones, coastal storm surges, flash floods, landslides, drought, heatwaves and cold spells afflict many regions of the Philippines, but their impact in terms of lives lost and livelihoods disrupted tends to fall most heavily on the poor and developing regions of the country.

The ever changing weather conditions threaten to heighten these impacts in many areas individually by alterations in the frequency and intensity of severe events and by taking along changes in mean conditions that may alter the underlying vulnerability of the archipelago’s inhabitants to health risks, environmental hazards, agricultural devastation and food insecurity. Millions of Filipino homes get flooded or even permanently submerged. The Filipino homeland where a lot of people are already prone and are experiencing famine, had harvests on a decline brought by climate change. The result in the decades to come may be an increase in the global burden of weather-related disasters, events that can threaten the sustainability of development processes and undermine progress toward poverty reduction in the Philippines.

More than half of Philippine national territory is vulnerable to natural disasters and approximately 85 percent of GDP comes from areas at risk. The country is highly vulnerable to current climate risks as well as future climate change. Averages of 20 tropical cyclones enter the Philippine area of responsibility although around 8 or 9 will cross any part of the country. These result to a great loss of lives and damage to agriculture and property every year. For example, in September 2009, tropical storm “Pepeng” (international codename: Parma) caused the death of 317 people, injured 101 people, and 43 people went missing. It damaged a total of about 500,000 houses with total damages to properties reaching PHP 27.3 billion or US$ 608 million. Agricultural damage reached US$ 83 million which was one of the costliest and destructive typhoons that hit the Phillipines in the last 5 years (NDCC, 2009).

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were adopted in the 2000 Millennium Summit as part of the UN Millennium Declaration. It is by far the most broadly supported, comprehensive and specific poverty reduction targets ever established by the global community (UN Millennium Project, 2005). The Philippines is committed to achieving the MDGs and has issued a report on its progress towards it (NEDA, 2003). The threat posed by climate change in the attainment of the global MDGs has been recognized by international organizations. The UN Millennium Project (2005) warns that climate change could exacerbate the problems posed by food insecurity, vector-borne diseases, natural disasters, and declining rainfall. It was recommended that integrating climate change adaptation measures into sustainable development and poverty reduction strategies would be the best way to help meet the MDGs (Sperling, 2003).

The Philippines MDG progress report from NEDA as of 2008 did not contain any reference to adaptation to climate change, or even to climate variability and extremes. The closest thing to climate change is the note on increasing trend of CO2 emissions which will be addressed by the Clean Air Act. More indirectly, there was a one-sentence reference on adapting to climate extremes through the need to improve flood control and drainage facilities to cope with the damage caused by flooding and typhoons in urban settlements. On the basis of its MDG agenda, climate change adaptation has not been prioritized in the Philippines since then.

To date, a republic act mainstreaming climate change into government policy was promulgated in July of 2009 and was enacted on January of 2010. R.A. 9729 or the Philippine Climate Change Act puts local government units into the center stage of governance, given the important roles city, town, and barangay leaders play in the implementation of whatever plans and programs on climate change adaptation and mitigation measures that will be crafted by a body tasked under the new law.

The substance and efficacy of Republic Act (RA) 9729 will only be as good as those executing climate change measures. The new law may even be a potent tool in bringing about a stronger green-minded electorate because of the centrality to local elected officials in mainstreaming the climate change agenda into their platforms of governance at the provincial and down to the barangay level. While Section 13 of RA 9729 calls for the formulation of the “National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAP),” Section 14, on the other hand, mandates local government units to be the frontline agencies in the formulation, planning and implementation of climate change action plans in their respective areas in accordance with the NCCAP and the provisions of the Local Government Code.

Viewing the climate change problem as a personal and moral problem brings all sectors into the domain of dialogue, discussion and participation regardless of political, ethnic, economic or religious affiliation. Instead of being seen as a management problem that the government or experts can solve for us, climate change when seen as a personal problem becomes a problem for all Filipinos to address, both as political actors and moral agents.

Planning results in highly effective disaster response. Being prepared for the changes in climate is no small stuff to be neglected and when organized ahead of time helps us react quickly to the changes as a nation.

End the silence of the gagged!

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