Overlooked “Keyword”

by Juan L. Mercado


“Survival”  is  the  key word, within  the  kilometric  title of  Republic Act 10171.  It   authorizes  President Benigno Aquino III   to sign  a check, up to  P1billion annually,  to ward off weather gone out of whack.

“People’s Survival Fund law” was sidelined  been  shoved aside by headlines on f Secretary Jesse Robredo’s death.  That  is understandable  Roberedo towered amidst today’s moral  pygmies. “Here was a Caesar!,”  as  a Shakespeare  play says.   “Whence comes such another?”

Unprecedented  weather changes pose life or death issues. Typhoons or  bagyos  here are of  increasing severity. Many were washed away to sea when typhoon “Sendong” corkscrewed it’s way into northern Mindanaio. A final death count was not possible. 

The term  bagyo goes back  to 1911.  A storm dumped what was then a record rainfall of 46 inches within a 24-hour period on Baguio City. In contrast,  10  hours of  Sendong’s  torrential rains saw flood waters rise by 11 feet in less than an hour.

RA  10171’s title is a mouthful:  “An Act Establishing the People’s Survival Fund to provide long-term finance streams to enable the government to effectively address the problem of Climate Change, Amending for the purpose Republic Act. No. 9729, otherwise known as the Climate Change Act of 2009,” and for other purposes.”

The new law  is  useful, albeit first response to growing clamor for action.  Show urgency in dealing with climate change,  World Bank urged back in April 27 last  year.  WB reiterated an offer of $250 million to help “better handle extreme weather conditions” and develop clean energy sources.

Stronger typhoons, rising sea levels and an increase in global temperature loom ahead, Andrew Steer, WB special envoy for climate change warned. “The real challenge of the Philippines, and it’s important that citizens are aware that over the coming decades, unless the world takes tougher action, certain things will happen that are not good.”

In 2010, the “Climate Change Vulnerability Index” produced by Maplecroft, a risk analysis firm, identified 16 countries as being at extreme risk. Aside from  the  Philippines, other countries  threatened include  Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan.

“Climate change affects everyone,” Carola Donner-Reichle  of  Asian  Development Bank cautions. “ But it does not affect everyone equally.”  “There is a need to mitigate the social and economic impact of climate change, particularly on the poor and most vulnerable”

But is time less than helpful for  the Survival Bill?  Look at these new scientific reports.   Efforts to  stop  global temperatures were  now “unrealistic”, admits  Professor and  Sir Bob Watson of  Britain. He used to chair the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  and served as senior adviser to former Vice-President Al Gore.

“I  look back to  summits at Copenhagen, Cancun and Durban and, to be quite candid, conclude:  Any hope of  tamping down  average temperature rise to 2C is “out the window”. Will temperature rise high as 5C?

Consequences  would be dire. Impact on human health, the availability of food and water, the loss of coastlines becomes progressively worse as the average temperature of the planet rises.

The 2C target was agreed at the UN  Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2010. Most  countries preferred a lower target of 1.5C. That  proved wishful .thinking. A   number of analyses have conclude that the 2C target would be missed. The most recent was by the International Energy Agency earlier this year.

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

The Aetas  echo what scientists elsewhere note. Large numbers of bats, who pollinate plants, are threatened says the Mamamal  Review. At  the University of  Bern experiments of  1,634 plant species show  “Spring flowering and leafing advances 5 to 6 days per year for every degree celsius of warming,” they report in the journal Nature.

Additional water needed by a plant community that sprouts a week earlier is staggering. Only 4 percent of coral reefs here remain in pristine condition. Other countries with equally threatened reefs are: Haiti, Grenada, Comoros, Vanuatu, Tanzania, Kiribati, Fiji and Indonesia.

“Accelerated” changes include  melting of  Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. Here “expect sea waters to rise by at least 20 centimeters in the next 40 years,” estimates  Dr. Wendy Clavano in  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 the island provinces of Romblon and Marinduque in the Sibuyan, says Clavano, a PhD holder from Cornell University.

Create  a “vulnerability index.” This could undergird mitigation 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).

Any tool to help sharpen awareness would be welcome. For now, most local officials assume tomorrow will be another today. We overlook  “key words” at our peril,  the late Jesse  Robredo would have told us.

(Email: juan_mercado77@yahoo.com)

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