Climate Change and the Vulnerability of the Philippines

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A Philippine Army plane flies over Guiuan, Eastern Samar, Philippines to survey the destruction that Typhoon Haiyan brought, deliver relief and evacuate survivors affected.

The Philippines has always been vulnerable to extreme weather particularly tropical cyclones. Five of the 10 most destructive typhoons have hit the country since 2006, displacing thousands of citizens, resulting in more than 1,000 casualties (The Climate Reality Project, 2016).

An average of 20 tropical cyclones enters the Philippines territory each year with eight or nine making landfall, the report says.

Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013 claimed 7,360 lives and displaced 4 million people. The cost of rebuilding was estimated at $5.8 billion. It was one of the most disastrous natural events the country has encountered since the new millennium (The Guardian, 2018).

Over the past decade, these tropical storms have been more frequent and severe and climate change is to blame, according to scientists.

The Asia-Pacific Report 2019 by the UNESCAP has identified the Philippines as one of the countries with intensive risk of tropical cyclones, 2nd only to Japan based on its annual losses.

What makes the Philippines at risk?

Based on 2013 data, the Global Climate Risk Index 2015 listed the Philippines as the number one country that climate change has affected (The Climate Reality Project, 2016). The article mentions the following factors.

Geography of the Philippines

The Philippines is surrounded by warm waters and sea-level rise continues to rise. As more heat is released into the atmosphere it creates stronger and frequent storms.

The country lacks natural barriers. Because it is composed of 7000 plus islands there is nothing that protects it from the sea. One of its most effective barriers against typhoons is its mangroves protecting the coast from storm surges and erosion. Sadly, deforestation has reduced its size to half the Climate Reality Project article reports.

Development factor

The Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) produce a climate change exposure map showing the climate threats and hazards for each region in the Philippines. 

It showed that all the regions are at risk of sea-level rise, in fact, the rate of sea-level rise in the Philippines is twice as that of the global average.

The other climate risks that the country is facing are extreme heating, extreme rainfall, disturbed water budgets, and rising ocean temperatures (The Climate Reality Project, 2016).

How can the Philippines be resilient against these climate risks?

Developmental factors are its biggest obstacle to respond to disasters, the article says. The Philippines needs to ramp up its efforts into investing in early warning systems, evacuation plans, and safety shelters before, during, and after disasters and calamities (The Climate Reality Project, 2016).

The challenge becomes more difficult when one considers 100 million population scattered among 7000 plus islands.

According to the Climate Reality Project blog post, each time a severe typhoon or extreme weather event hit the country it costs two per cent of its gross domestic product and another two per cent to rebuild infrastructure. The regularity of disaster affects the country’s desire to grow and develop, the article comments.

Philippine government response to extreme weather events

After Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, the Philippines have expanded its social protection system allowing funds to be more accessible to those who were affected, preventing them to fall deeper into poverty.

It established the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Programme (4Ps) with financial assistance from the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UNICEF. The 4Ps enabled the country to provide relief and basic needs of over 105,000 households (Asia-Pacific Report, 2019).

This effort by the government has provided immediate relief to the victims and it has expanded to cover other aspects of relief and rehabilitation. The Asia-Pacific Report commends this as an example of “the value of social protection at all stages of the disaster management cycle” given the fact that the region is disaster-prone

climate change vulnerability philippines
Debris lines the streets of TaclobanLeyte island. This region was the worst affected by the typhoon, causing widespread damage and loss of life. 

Why was Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 so deadly?

Five years after the Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, an article on The South China Morning Post investigates why the super typhoon caused so much disaster.

The SCMP report published the following findings:

  • The government did not have adequate warnings;
  • The people did not anticipate the storm surge which claimed millions of homes and thousands of lives, extreme poverty;
  • People were living in flimsy houses built along the coasts and were no match for the typhoon’s strength;
  • And lastly, there was a failure to evacuate.

Despite the climate and disaster risks the Philippines is facing, there are solutions that are available. The Climate Reality Project article has the following recommendations:

  • First, educating its citizens and the world about what the country is facing because of climate change.
  • Second, address climate issues and transition to use of clean renewable energy is what the country can begin to do.

Disaster-risk regions should invest more

The Asia-Pacific Report 2019 has examined the disaster and climate risk and identifying hotspots of vulnerabilities in the region. It shows that the most at risk and vulnerable are those living in poverty. And these disasters and calamities reverse the hard-won economic growth of the country and increasing poverty rates, the report mentions.

Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of ESCAP proposes to invest more to “outpace disaster risk” and to ‘reverse its hard-won development gains” and to ensure that investments reach those living in extreme poverty and the most vulnerable to ensure that no one is left behind (Asia-Pacific report 2019).

It further mentions that investments in infrastructure resiliency and emergency response planning, economic growth, education, social protection, and health will bring crucial co-benefits such as better education, health, social and infrastructure services, higher agricultural production and incomes.

Although investments would incur huge amounts of money the cost of investments is still lower than the cost of disasters. Governments should also incorporate disaster risks into its social policies to build resilience the Asia-Pacific Report says.

Closing thoughts

Given the climate change pattern of the Philippines in the last decade and the disaster that comes with it, climate adaptation and mitigation planning is something that government and non-government agencies must jointly consider doing for disaster risks reduction.

Also, the application of the principles of building back better will be a possible resource for any country, its cities and towns that will be recovering from any unavoidable disastrous climate change events.

Sources:

The Climate Reality Project (2016, January 19). How is Climate Change Affecting the Philippines? [Blog]. Retrieved from https://www.climaterealityproject.org/blog/how-climate-change-affecting-philippines
Alisjahbana, A.S., Zahedi, K., and Bonapace, T. (2019). The Disaster Riskscape Across Asia-Pacific The Disaster Riskscape Across Asia-Pacific, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. Retrieved from https://www.unescap.org/sites/default/files/publications/Asia-Pacific%20Disaster%20Report%202019_full%20version.pdf.
Ajibe, T. (2018, November 6). ‘Philippines: five years after Typhoon Haiyan’, The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/nov/06/philippines-five-years-after-typhoon-haiyan
Presse, A.F. (2018, November 5). ‘Why Philippines’ Super Typhoon Haiyan was so deadly’, South China Morning Post. Retrieved from https://www.scmp.com/news/asia/southeast-asia/article/2171693/why-philippines-super-typhoon-haiyan-was-so-deadly.

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