Philippine Coastal Villages Threatened By Sea Level Rise Due To Climate Change

By Henrylito D. Tacio

Davao, 4 August 2009. This one is for Ripleys Believe It Or Not: Too much rains and floods during the summer season and scorching heat of the sun during the rainy season. What is happening to our weather these days? According to experts, this is climate change.

The Philippines, home to almost 90 million people, is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change, according to Dr. Rodel D. Lasco, a member of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). For one, the country has a long coastline where millions of people live including in urban centers such as Metro Manila, Cebu, and Davao.

As early as 2007, the IPCC estimated that sea levels might rise by between 18 centimeters and 59 centimeters in the coming century. The Philippines ranks fourth in the Global Climate Risk Index. Fifteen of the 16 regions of the Philippines are vulnerable to sea level rise.

"The global warming is very simple," said Dr. Robert Watson, chairman of the United Nations' IPCC. There are increasing emissions of greenhouse gases and thus their concentrations in the atmosphere are going up. As these concentrations increase, the temperature of the earth rises.

In Mindanao, a six-meter sea level rise in the Davao Gulf could submerge the coastal area of Davao City. In a recent seminar on climate change, councilor Leo Avila said that Agdao district, Panacan, Sta. Ana wharf, part of the Lanang, Bajada and Matina areas, the whole of downtown area, including the City Hall, will be completely under water. These areas will virtually be part of the Davao Gulf, he said.

As a result, 40% of the city's population will be forced to evacuate to higher areas like the Buhangin district, Catalunan Grande, Calinan, Mintal and Paquibato. Since the downtown area is already inundated, businesses have also to be relocated to higher areas.

But Davao City is not alone. Coastal villages from Carmen, Davao del Norte to Panabo City and Digos City will also be greatly inundated. Other provinces in Mindanao vulnerable to sea level rise are Sulu, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga Sibugay, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, and Maguindanao. All these will be erased from the map of the Philippines, according to Greenpeace, an international environment watch group.

A continuing rise in average global sea level would inundate parts of many heavily populated river deltas and the cities on them, making them uninhabitable, and would destroy many beaches around the world, deplored Avila, a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

According to Avila, the critical year for the sea level rise would be by 2050. As such, he urged that the present generation should do something now to mitigate the impending danger. He also suggested that all government projects and programs should be constructed above the 12-meter safety margin.

Rising temperatures will also spur changes in rainfall patterns. Weather patterns (in the Philippines) may change with projections of higher rainfall and drier summers, Dr. Lasco said. These could adversely affect millions of hectares of farm lands. In the rainy season, there will be more frequent floods and in dry season, there will be less water available for irrigation. Overall, it threatens also food security.

Father Jesus Ramon Villarin, SJ in a paper he co-wrote in 2006 study observed that the rainfall over northern coast of Mindanao has generally increased over decades, with the northeast section receiving most of the increase. But the southern regions are experiencing decreasing rainfall, mostly in the south central parts.

"We are losing the micro-climate," Father Villarin deplored. Rainfall is changing in Mindanao. The impact of the rainfall changes over major croplands is high in the cultivated and managed area of southern Mindanao, including areas on the northern coast of the Davao Gulf.

Every year, the Philippines is buffeted by typhoons, which kill scores of people and damage billions of pesos worth of properties. Normally, the country experiences tropical cyclones of up to 20 a year. But in recent years, stronger typhoons have become more frequent. Climate change is expected to exacerbate this extreme event, warned Dr. Lasco.

Droughts have also become common. The 1992-1993 droughts caused long forest fires in Mindanao and others part of the country. Major drought events have been identified with the El Nino episodes in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific.

"The climatic change is unlike any witnessed during the past two millenniums.", The 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro cited the greenhouse effect and the depletion of the earths protective ozone layer have assumed dangerous proportions and present an inestimable challenge to mankind. Greenhouse gases produce the greenhouse effect, which traps heat near the earths surface, maintaining a relative constant temperature.

Many human activities increase the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which can result in a gradual increase in the earths surface temperature, a process called global warming.Climate change accounts for more than 300,000 deaths per year around the world and $125 billion of economic losses annually, creating conditions where more people feel the effects of natural disasters or suffer environmental degradation, according to The Human Impact Report: Climate ChangeThe Anatomy of a Silent Crisis.

Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas. It occurs naturally and is vital to life, but excessive quantities of it are released by burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas). Other greenhouse gases are almost exclusively produce by human activity such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which are used as refrigerants. Still other greenhouse gases include methane, nitrogen compounds, and ozone. Experts claim about 80 percent of global warming is due to increases in all these gases.

Deforestation is believed to account for the other 20%. Science tells us that plants incorporate carbon dioxide into their bodies during photosynthesis. Fewer trees caused by deforestation mean less intake of carbon dioxide. In addition, burning this wood (along with fossil fuels) sends the carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere at an accelerated rate.

The consequence of global climate change are so pressing that it doesnt matter who was responsible for the past; what matters is who is responsible for the future and that means all of us, declared actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, governor of California.

As the Last Action Hero added, rich nations and the poor nations have different responsibilities but there is one responsibility we all have, and that is action action, action, action!