Thursday, April 3, 2014

We’re a disaster waiting to happen any time now

As close to 200 countries began in November 2010 a two-week meeting in Cancun, Mexico, to try to forge an agreement to curb climate change, several international agencies warned that the Philippines remained a disaster waiting to happen—with Metro Manila possibly going under water after just a heavy downpour.  


That disaster is waiting to happen at any time now.

As in earlier meetings in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Bali, Indonesia, a legally binding international agreement did not happen in Cancun to put a cap on carbon emissions scientists believe to be causing global warming and worsening natural disasters.


Moving heaven and earth

As 15,000 government delegates, environmentalists, business leaders and journalists gathered in the Mexican resort, the Philippine government appeared to be moving heaven and earth to avert more catastrophes from impending natural disasters in a desperate race against time in a dangerously warming planet.

On the eve of the Cancun conference, President Benigno Aquino III declared a Global Warming and Climate Change Consciousness Week, calling on the people to adjust their lifestyles to prevent further degrading the environment as temperatures climb, ice melts, seas rise and the climate that nurtured man shifts in unpredictable ways.

Mr. Aquino also ordered the scrapping of the P18.7-billion Laguna Lake rehabilitation project in order to include additional features to remove centuries-old silt, save the watershed, install global positioning mapping, relocate illegal settlers, and provide livelihood programs for displaced fishermen.


Dire warnings

The President’s order came not a day too soon: Some 70,000 fishermen live in 170 coastal villages around the lake area covering 90,000 hectares.

A triple-agency international study has found Metro Manila, together with three other Asian coastal mega cities, in grave danger of killer floods that could devastate them anytime now unless steps are taken fast. An average of 20 typhoons strikes the country yearly.

The government-run Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) issued a similar warning after Typhoon “Ondoy” (international name: Ketsana) unleashed killer floods in 2009 that kept parts of Metro Manila underwater for many months.


Manila sinking below sea level

The state-owned water regulatory agency, Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), has reported that many more parts of Metro Manila have slid below sea level because of sinking water tables. 

It said massive siltation had also greatly reduced the Pasig River’s capacity to drain flood waters into Manila Bay, threatening to swamp the capital after even just a heavy thunderstorm.

An Asian-focused US think tank, Pacific Strategies and Assessments, has accused the Aquino administration of underestimating the threat of natural disasters on the “most vulnerable” part of the country—Metro Manila—and overestimating government preparedness to cope with natural disasters like typhoons, floods and earthquakes in many parts of the country.


Disaster-prone

A World Bank joint study has found Metro Manila—together with Asia’s biggest mega cities, Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City—in grave danger of natural calamities triggered by climate change.

The country is already suffering the quadruple-whammy effects of global warming identified by UN climate scientists: rising sea levels, floods triggered by killer typhoons, dwindling drinking water supplies induced by drought, and shrinking food crops from parched agricultural lands.

A one-meter rise in sea level resulting from melting polar ice caps could put 64 of the country’s 81 provinces—a full 80 percent—in harm’s way, according to the environmental group Greenpeace.


Half of all municipalities at risk

That’s equivalent to 700 million square meters of coastal lands covering half of the country’s 1,610 municipalities, where half of the population depends on seafood as the main source of protein.

In 2006 alone, 3 million Filipinos were directly affected by natural disasters, according to the non government Citizen Disaster Response Center. The number is expected to rise with rising temperatures and sea levels.

A World Bank study done after Typhoons “Ondoy” and “Pepeng” (Parma) struck in 2009, titled “Post Disaster Needs Assessment,” recommended “immediate changes in land-use planning, housing, water management, and environmental protection.”


No time to lose

Another World Bank study, done with the Asian Development Bank and the Japan International Cooperation Agency, titled “Climate Risks and Adaptation in Asian Coastal Mega cities,” warned of climate-induced disasters in Metro Manila unless major steps were taken fast.

The study recommended constructing the Marikina Dam and embankments in the Pasig-Marikina river basin, and improving two major pumping stations serving Metro Manila, located beside the Manggahan River and in the Camanava area (Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas and Valenzuela).


Silting blocks drainage systems

After Ondoy struck, the LLDA disclosed that the lake’s capacity to hold flood waters had been cut drastically by silt dumped by 24 river tributaries from denuded watersheds.

The MWSS has disclosed that many more sections of Metro Manila have slid several feet below sea level because of sinking water tables being rapidly depleted by deep wells.

The agency also reported that massive siltation of the Pasig River has dangerously reduced its capacity to drain Metro Manila of flood waters caused by even minor thunderstorms.

In the central Visayan provinces devastated by Super typhoon Yolanda in November 2013, the work of rebuilding broken lives and ravaged communities continues outside the peripheral vision of Manila—until the next environmental disaster strikes.

(The author is chief executive of a think tank specializing in transforming social, political, cultural and technological trends into business strategy and public policy. Comments are welcome at Marbella International Business Consultancy, e-mail mibc2006@gmail.com.)


Photo credit: worldbank.org

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