|On the right climate change track|
|Wednesday, 01 August 2012|
Today, more than ever, an understanding of what we mean by climate change is critical to life as we know it.
The impact of climate change, and our understanding of this, should affect how we make decisions and our priorities in terms of land use and planning, policy-making, and should shape our strategies for disaster preparedness and risk reduction. In the Philippines, society is engaged in a learning process about climate change and how we must adapt. But are we learning the right things? And more importantly, are we applying what we are learning?
A recent conference entitled Linking European and Asian Academic Networks: Experiences in Climate Change and Disaster Research Education (LEAN-CC) provided an opportunity to discuss the state of climate change science, policy, and practice in the Philippines.
Disasters in recent years have made the threat of extreme events very real for the country, and for which most are attributed as impacts of climate change. The past seven years has seen storms that triggered mudflows and landslides, such as the series of typhoons in Aurora in 2004, and the continuous rain that caused the tragic landslide in Guinsaugon, Leyte. In 2007, we experienced just how unpredictable the behavior of storms can be, with the constantly changing path of Milenyo. In 2009, Metro Manila came to a standstill as continuous rains brought by Ondoy flooded huge areas, historically shown as natural flood zones that were transformed into housing and industry zones.
This was a painful wake-up call for many and society as a whole was not prepared to deal with an event like Ondoy, and we were caught flat-footed. Unfortunately, Ondoy would not be the last such storm. Most recently, in December 2011, typhoon Sendong struck Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities in northeastern Mindanao, and although there had been much talk about disaster preparedness, it seems that we are not learning the hard lessons.
El Niņo and La Niņa events are spawning more extreme weather as typhoons, drought, intense and prolonged rainfall are experienced in the Philippines. Climate change intensifies these natural hazards and makes their behavior more difficult to predict. For generations we have been told that typhoons do not pass through Mindanao - and yet some of Mindanao's major areas flooded extensively and caused much loss of life and property.
Today, we are learning that it does not take an extreme weather event to create a disaster. We are realizing that typhoons and super typhoons are not the only threats that should concern us. Continuous rainfall - an event that is not even categorized as a typhoon under our current storm classification - plus high population densities living in high-risk areas, are ingredients to a recipe for disaster. Clearly, the way we have been doing things will no longer work. We need new ways of doing things; we need new ways to cope. We need to adapt.
While it is critical to develop a better understanding of the science behind climate change, it is also important for us to apply this understanding in ways that protect those who are at greatest risk. The impact of climate change will be hardest on the poorest sectors of society. Often, these are the communities that have least access to the information that will assist decision-making and lead to the early response and action that reduces risk of disaster. There is nothing we can do about the natural phenomena; the rain and the storms will come. But it is critical that we take the necessary steps to reduce risks and vulnerability.
There are now significant efforts at building capacity for communities in high-risk areas. Early warning systems and even the development of a new flood-warning system are all important components in responding to climate change. The Department of Science and Technology's Project NOAH (Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards), launched last 6 July, utilizes data from Doppler radars to develop flood forecasts, as well as a color-coded system to indicate a particular location's vulnerability to flooding. These are important steps at reducing vulnerability, although there are still serious limitations in terms of coverage of the Doppler radars and the public awareness and understanding of these new systems.
It seems however that we are on the right track, in terms of responding to climate change. The scientific and academic community is making great strides in understanding the impact of climate change. Policy abounds: the Philippines has a climate change law, a national climate change action plan, a natural disaster risk reduction and management plan. But all the research and all the policy will fail us if we cannot translate this into effective action on the ground.
This story was also features in UCANews .