Mindanao & climate change: Year-end floods, new year beginning, still more floods

The Philippines experiences 20 tropical typhoons each year. And in recent years, stronger typhoons have become more frequent.

As stated in the executive report of “Getting A Grip on Climate Change in the Philippines,” a World Bank publication, “by the end of this century, tropical cyclones are expected to intensify, with a projected increase in the average instantaneous maximum wind velocity at the Philippine coast.”

Climate change has significantly contributed to the emergence of more intense typhoons and higher storm surges, according to another World Bank report, “Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts and the Case for Resilience.”

In Mindanao, the megacity of Davao has traditionally escaped the wrath of typhoons. But not the incessant rains these intense storms bring. When typhoon Vinta entered Davao City two days before Christmas last year, some areas were flooded.

The recent flooding was just a precursor of what will happen in the coming years. Secretary Jesus G. Dureza of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process believes that the constant flooding now happening in Davao City is due to sea level rise.

“My calculation is that (the sea level) has risen by one foot over a period of 20 years,” the former press secretary wrote some years back in his column, Advocacy Mindanao.

“Hence, rain waters and floods no longer easily flow or empty out into the sea. They are clogged in the waterways and spill out into the riverbanks,” Dureza said.


He added that when flood waters rush down during high tide, they get stuck, at times and worse, causes a “backflow” of seawater during high tide. When seawater rises high, it flows back inland through rivers. Hence, low-lying areas or subdivisions or residential areas around or near riverbanks are in trouble. I know this because I personally witnessed how the sea level had gone up over the years.”

American bestselling novelist Tom Anthony is very much aware of this, too. He came to the Philippines when he married his Filipina wife, whom he met in Singapore. Since his wife is from Mindanao, he decided to settle in Davao City.

About five years ago, Anthony built a house near a beach front. The place was so beautiful as it reminded him of his home in California. Trees were trimming all over; there was also a cemented pathway along the shoreline.

Then, something happened. When he returned lately to his home in Davao City, he observed that there were already cracks the cemented pathway. Some portions are no longer passable as it was dangerous to walk above it. In fact, the dead end of the long road from the entrance is now placed with orange signage with the word: DANGER. The cemented fence of a house built near the seashore may soon give way as the waves of the sea kept on encroaching the backyard.

“This is a proof that sea level rise is for real,” said Anthony, the man who wrote the best-selling “Rebels of Mindanao.” “I think people should stop thinking that climate change is a state of mind. We need to do something about it now before it’s too late.”

During the last century, “sea levels rose between 10 and 20 centimeters (4 and 8 inches),” according to “Fragile Earth: Views of a Changing World.” As global warming intensifies over the century ahead, this rate is predicted to accelerate. “Nature” said the current sea-level rise rate – which started in 1990 – is 2.5 times faster than it was from 1900 to 1990.

“On average, sea levels around the world rise 3.1 centimeters every ten years,” the Canada-based International Development Research Center pointed out. In comparison, water levels in the Philippines “are projected to rise between 7.6 and 10.2 centimeters each decade.”


In the near future, about 170,000 hectares of coastlands in 171 municipalities are expected to go underwater, particularly those low-rise island communities facing the Pacific Ocean. Metro Manila, Cebu and Davao City are also vulnerable.

The “Global Climate Risk Index 2015” listed the Philippines as the number one most affected country by climate change. “This is in part to its geography,” wrote the EcoWatch in its website. “The Philippines is located in the western Pacific Ocean, surrounded by naturally warm waters that will likely get even warmer as average sea-surface temperature continues to rise.”

The book, “Hotspots! Mapping Climate Change Vulnerability in Southeast Asia,” singled out 16 provinces of the country as among the top 50 most vulnerable in Southeast Asia. “High exposure to climate hazards, especially tropical cyclones, floods and landslides, is the dominant factor behind the vulnerability of these provinces,” it said.

The planet has been warming since prehistoric times, but man’s tampering with the environment has made the temperature change faster. “While human activities during the past century have damaged a long list of natural systems, most of these problems are local or regional in scope and can be reversed in years or decades if sufficient effort is exerted,” wrote Christopher Flavin, author of “Slowing Global Warming: A Worldwide Strategy.”

“Changes to the earth’s atmosphere, on the other hand, are global and— for all practical purposes—irreversible not only in our lifetime but in our children’s and grandchildren’s as well,” he added.

It was Dr. James E. Hansen of the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration who first raised the issue. In 1988, he told a Senate hearing that “the greenhouse effect is changing our climate now.”

Robert James Bidinotto, in a Reader’s Digest article, explained greenhouse effect in this manner: “When sunlight warms the earth, certain gases in the lower atmosphere, acting like the glass in a greenhouse, trap some of the heart as it radiates back into space. The greenhouse gases, primarily water vapor and including carbon dioxide, methane and man-made chlorofluorocarbons, warm our planet, making life possible.


“If they were more abundant, greenhouse gases might trap too much heat. Venus, for example, has 60,000 times more carbon dioxide in its atmosphere than Earth, and its temperature averages above 800 degrees Fahrenheit. But if greenhouse gases were less plentiful or entirely absent, temperatures on Earth would average below freezing,” Bidinotto wrote.

“As long as the amount of greenhouse gases remains constant, along with other climatic factors, the temperature on the planet remains relatively steady,” H. Steven Dashefsky pointed out in his book, “Environmental Literacy.” “Increased amounts of greenhouse gases due to human activities increase the greenhouse effect and are believed to lead to global warming.”

Take the case of carbon dioxide, which plays an important role in controlling the earth’s surface temperature. Studies show the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been rising over the past few decades. Burning gasoline for vehicles and burning coal and oil to generate electricity are believed responsible for this increase.

Methane is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas that is released into the air. Although methane spends less time in the atmosphere (12 years) than carbon dioxide, it’s more efficient at trapping radiation, according to some studies. “Methane is 25 times greater to impact climate change than carbon dioxide in a 100-year period,” one study said.

A third culprit, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), are synthetic or man-made chemicals used as aerosol, repellants, blowing agents for plastic-foams, refrigerants and solvents.   Freon was the original CFC developed in the 1930s.

Then, there’s nitrous oxide, released both by bacterial process and by the combustion of fossil fuels, especially coal and fuel oil. Recent studies have shown that deforestation, particularly clear cutting, can increase by two times the local emissions of nitrous oxide.


There is no turning back when it comes to climate change. It is for real and it is happening right now. In 2008, during the 11th International Coral Reef Symposium held in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Dr. Simon Donner of the University of British Columbia embarked on a metaphor for climate change.

“The climate is like this big ship. We are all on this big ship and the problem is once you hit the brakes it takes a long time for the ship to actually slow down and stop,” Dr. Donner told the participants.

“In our case the ship is the Titanic and we are going to hit the iceberg. It is going to be almost impossible for us not to hit the iceberg at this point. What we need to do is everything we can to put the brakes on, to slow the ship down and move the iceberg a little bit. The time for emission reductions isn’t so much now as it was 20 years ago.”

Sea level rise is just one of the dire consequences of climate change. “Climate change is more disastrous to the agricultural industry of the Philippines and its neighboring countries than in other parts of the world,” warned Dr. David Street of the US Argonne National Laboratory.

According to agricultural scientist Julian Gonsalves, agriculture and climate change are closely linked. “The agriculture sector is expected to suffer the most serious impacts of climate change, and food security, nutrition and livelihoods will be affected if we don’t act soon,” he told SciDev.Net.


As global temperature continues to rise due to climate change so are diseases. “Climate change endangers human health,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, former director-general of the Geneva-based World Health Organization.

“As climate change alters rainfall patterns and brings deadly, intensified and frequent calamities, it will affect public health,” said Loren Legarda, Chair of the Senate Committee on Climate Change.

In the Philippines, the rising cases of dengue and malaria are related to climate change. In 1998, when the Philippines experienced El Niño, almost 40,000 dengue cases, 1,200 cholera cases and nearly 1,000 typhoid fever cases nationwide were recorded.

“The state of our health as human beings is under threat but it is not a death sentence—yet. We are alive and able to address the climate crisis. We can no longer deny the link between climate change and public health. As scientists, doctors and health workers act double time to limit the spread of weather-related diseases, we must do our share by addressing the factors that contribute to the spread of these diseases,” Legarda pointed out.

Meanwhile, the climate change continues to wreak its havoc around the world. “Climate change is taking place before our eyes and will continue to do so as a result of the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which have risen constantly and again reached new records,” deplored Michel Jarraud, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization.



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