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Back Opinion OP-ED Juan L. Mercado Ordering Back The Tides
10 May 2012

Ordering Back The Tides

“Trees fail to flower,”  Aetas huddled at the Bataan mountain top meeting told Fr. Shay Cullen.  “Bees are disappearing.  Storms blow away our nipa huts as never before.”

With Preda Foundation coworkers, the priest toiled up the two hour steep trail on horseback. PREDA buys Aeta wild mangoes at double what lowland hawkers offer and markets them abroad. 

Half a world away , Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research scientists documented what Aetas learned from seat-of-their pants.

University of Bern  experiments span two decades,  four continents and 1,634 plant species.  “Spring flowering and leafing advances 5 to 6 days per year for every degree celsius of warming,” they report in the journal Nature.

Bern tests “underestimated how much plants change,” reports British Broadcasting Service science reporter Matt McGarth.  He adds that research leader Elizabeth Wolkovich and This Rutishauser fret over additional water needed by a plant community, that sprouts a week earlier.

Contrary to myth, Filipinos have modest freshwater endowment: 6,332 cubic meters yearly.  In contrast, Malaysians tap into  26,105 cm.  Saudi Arabians have only 118 cm. They bartered more oil for water last year when Riyadh’s last aquifers ran dry.

Here, “we  have a water aristocracy set on its head.  ”A squatter’s shack, in Cebu City, pays 13 times for water than a gated Maria Luisa enclave home, notes UN World Water Development Report.

In the Philippines, 54 out of every 100 lived in cities by 2007.  By 2020, the number of urban Filipinos will be double rural counterparts. Many cities are saddled with below-par water facilities even as births and migration interlock.

A “youth bulge” characterizes this migrant torrent, San Carlos University’s Soccoro Gultiano and Peter Xenos of East-West Center point out. Hormones of these young migrants are on overdrive. They will tarry in the reproductive age bracket longer.

A shaper slowdown n birthrates won’t materialize anytime soon, not even if the Reproductive Health bill gets into law books. But demand for just about everything else will spiral. And there is no substitute for water.

Politically charged issues, like a chief justice’s blacked out dollar accounts, smudge concerns, including shifting rain bands. A bachelor-president’s date will send commentators into a tizzy.  But glossing over emerging  threats can be lethal.

“We're seeing changes happening… in ways  we didn't expect to see for hundreds of years," 27  scientists, led by Oxford University’s Alex Rodgers,  caution in their recent  “State of  the Oceans”  report  to  UN.

As polluted seas warm,  we enter “a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history", they wrote. Over-fishing, pollution and climate change interlock “in ways not previously recognized”.

"Accelerated" changes include melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets Sea levels are rising and rmethane, trapped in the sea bed, is seeping out.

Here we ”expect sea waters to rise by at least 20cm in the next 40 years”, writes Dr. Wendy Clavano in a current series for Environmental Science for Social Change, a Jesuit research organization. 

The severest threat stretches “along the Pacific seaboard: from Samar all the way down to eastern Mindanao”. Include the Zamboangas, and island provinces of Romblon and Marinduque in the Sibuyan, says Clavano, a PhD from Cornell University.

She suggests creation of a “vulnerability index.”  This could undergird migtation programs for what initial data pinpoint as “high risk areas. That sweeps in  Lingayen Gulf (La Union and Pangasinan), Lamon Bay (Quezon and Camarines Norte), Camotes Sea (western Leyte, northern Bohol, and northeastern Cebu), 

Add to that list  Guimaras Strait (along northwestern Negros Occidental and Guimaras), central Sulu Sea (Cuyo Archipelago), Iligan Bay (in particular Misamis Occidental),  Zamboanga del Norte, and Bislig Bay (Surigao del Sur).

Only four percent of coral reefs here in remain in pristine condition.  Other countries with  equally threatened reefs are: Haiti, Grenada, Comoros, Vanuatu, Tanzania, Kiribati, Fiji and Indonesia         

Edges of the “Tropical  Belt” -- outer boundaries of the subtropical dry zones  --- have  drifted towards the poles, notes Nature Geoscience. Temperature and rainfall changes alter yields, including  politically-volatile crops like corn and rice.

“In the Philippines, rice yields drop by 10% for every one degree centigrade increase in night-time temperature”, BBC’s environment correspondent Richard Black writes. As droughts dry reservoirs, yields have fallen by 10-20% over the last 25 years. More declines are ahead.

Three billion people live in the tropics and subtropics. They’ll nearly double by the end of the century?  The National Statistical Board asserts there are 93 million plus of us today. No sir, it’s 99.9 million, counter some US and international bodies.

The “most extreme summers of the last century could become routine towards the end of this century”, predicts University of Seattle. What would be summer 2100 in the Philippines be like?

Filipino policy makers must move beyond politics-as-usual.  Over drawing on aquifers in Metro Cebu and Manila is  causing severe  land subsidence.  Clavano urges priority  be given to adaptation  and mitigation  approaches for sea rising levels. Like  King Canute, politicians can not order back the tides.

“Nor can we move crops north or south since many are photosensitive.” notes Dr. Geoff Hawtin at International Centre for Tropical Agriculture.  “Tipping points could come  quickly."

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