Three In A Row

by Juan L. Mercado


Typhoon  “Crising”  jabbed  Mindanao’s underbelly, before it barreled out to sea Thursday. May we now watch 33 candidates for 12 Senate shashay on stage?

Hold it. This  is the third hurricane, in as many years, in a region where typhoons hit, at most, once  every 12 years or so .  Mindanao   was safely wedged below the upward beaten track of typhoons.

Not any more. “Crising is an ominous warning of climate change impact”, wrote Simon Tisdall of the UK’s Guardian. ”The Philippines (must) adapt  to rapidly deteriorating climatic trends at  great cost…”

“Pablo” proved   the world’s deadliest   2012 typhoon.  It flattened  much of  Davao Oriental and  Compostela  Valley , with winds  gusting   up to 195 miles per hour. A category  5 storm, “Pablo”  packed more punch than the  US   category 2  hurricane “Sandy”.  A total of 1,067 corpses were recovered, but 800 remain missing.

“It’d take 10 years to replace the coconut crop,” estimates  New Bataan Mayor Lorenzo Balbin.  “Some villages in  Compostela Valley  may be too unsafe”. Today, 15,000 victims still huddle  in evacuation centers. Another 200,000 are sheltered by relatives or friends.

Rewind to 2011. “Sendong” battered  Misamis Oriental  and Lanao then.  Rains caused floods to surge 11 feet in an hour and wiped out a community, perched on “Isla de Oro” sandbar. In 1911, A storm, in 1911, dumped what was then a record rainfall of 46 inches within a 24-hour period on  Baguio   City .   Sendong’s death toll exceeded 1,453 . Some will never be accounted for.

These were macabre replaysof  November1991.  Typhoon“Uring” zipped through Leyte. In Ormoc City , where  Anilao river  meanders  to the sea, the delta island community of Isla Verde was wiped out.  A memorial for the 8,000 people killed has been built since.

“How do we explain the decreasing number of  years in  occurrence of destructive typhoons affecting southern  Philippines ?” marine scientist and Magsaysay Awardee Angel Alcala asks.   “Since the 1980s, typhoons hitting the country, below the 10-degree latitude, seem to be increasing in frequency at year’s end.”

Low-latitude typhoons destroy the coral reefs along their paths. Here, only 4 percent of the coral reefs here remain in pristine condition “Pablo”  ravaged the Cantaan Giant Clam Sanctuary and shattered live coral cover on Camiguin reefs. “Of greater concern is their effect on the biodiversity, including fishery,” Alcala said. “We stand to lose sea food sources on which coastal communities depend.”

Mean temperatures are rising by 0.14C per decade, says the UN’s inter-governmental panel on climate change says  Since the 1980s, annual mean rainfall increased. “Yet two of the severest droughts ever recorded occurred in 1991-92 and 1997-98.”

“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, this column pointed out previously.

Large numbers of bats that pollinate plants are threatened, says the “Mammal Review”. At 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,” the journal  “Nature” reports. The additional water needed by a plant community that sprouts a week earlier is staggering.

Scientists track  steadily rising sea levels around the  Philippines  —  and  slumping  water table. Floods swamped the  Philippines  last year The most severe drought, in half a century, blistered the  US  and swaths of  Eastern Europe .

The Arctic ice cap is melting at speeds never recorded since satellite monitoring began 30 years back,  Norwegian Polar Institute cautions. “We want our children to live in an  America  that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet”, President Barrack Obama said in his 2013 State of the Union message.

Warming seas here now wash farther inland. A 20-centimeter sea level rise estimate, over the next 40 years, is obsolete. This affects food production through land erosion and degradation. 

Typhoon-related costs, since the Philippine government set up a climate change commission  in 2009, crested at 2.9% of GDP. They’ve been spiraling more  since, reports  commission head Mary Ann Lucille Sering   “Extreme weather is the new normal. Opinion surveys show Filipinos rated global warming as a bigger threat than rising food and fuel prices.”

“Every year I hope governments will provide leadership humanity so badly needs”, Kumi Naidoo of  Guardian Professional wrote. I hope they’ll   act beyond short-sighted electoral cycles and  corrupt influence of elites.   At the UN Climate Talks in  Doha, we heard   Philippine   climate change commissioner  Narevdev Sano say: “

“We have never had a typhoon like Bopha (Pablo) wreak  havoc in a part of the country that never saw  a storm like this in half a century. Other countries face the same threat. We must take responsibility for the future we want. If not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?”

“Survival” is the key word in the kilometric title of Republic Act 10171. It authorizes President Aquino to sign a check, up to P1 billion annually, to ward off weather gone out of whack. The new law is  a  first response to growing clamor for action.  More needs to be done.

“My prediction is that in 2013, countries will start listening more”, Naidoo adds. Women’s movements, trade unions and religious organizations will seek to avert catastrophic climate change. “There are no decent jobs on a dead planet.”


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