[Commentary] Red flags ahead

Over 6.2 million Filipinos are now at risk of regular flooding, says a new analysis of surging sea levels and flood risk around the world.., Conducted by Climate Central, the new report is based on detailed data than has previously been available.

The report came to a Philippines reeling from Tropical Storm “Mario” (international name: Fung-Wong). Twelve died, 14 injured and two were still unaccounted for, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council reported.. Evacuees crested at 63,254 and the damage bill came to P389.1 million.

This will not be the last storm.The threat of increasingly severe storms due to climate change cuts across Asia. write Gregor Aisch, David Leonhardt and Kevin Quealy . One out of four Vietnamese will cluster in areas in areas “likely to be subject to regular floods by end of this century. Four percent of China’s residents — 50 million people — live in the same kind of areas.

Globally, eight of the 10 large countries most at risk are in Asia. . About one person in 40, will be locked into places likely to be swamped, if today’s climate patterns persist. Data indicates 2014 could he the hottest year since 2010. No one guarantees the thermometers will dip soon.

More than 40 percent of the Netherlands is exposed. But it also has the world’s most advanced levee system .And few Asian countries came emulate the Dutch system anytime soon.

“Filipinos bear a disproportionate amount of the burden when it comes to climate change,” President Benigno Aquino told the UN Climate Summit last week. He pointed to the battering inflicted by Super Typhoon “Yolanda,” saying: “Nation should not wait for another’s action before determining its own.

“We are dangerously close to condemning the next generation to a future that“is beyond our capacity to repair.”, US President Barrack Obama told the same forum.. “In each of our countries,there will be interests resistant to action…But we have to lead…”

Among seven cities, Manila is second most at risk from climate change, says 2013 Climate Change Vulnerability Index which covers 197 countries. Others are: Dhaka, Bangkok, Yangon, Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh and Kolkata.
Rising sea levels could uproot 13.6 million Filipinos by 2050, Asian Development Bank projected in an earlier study: “Addressing Climate Change and Migration in Asia and the Pacific.” Three typhoons, in as many years, lashed Mindanao. Yet, the island used to reel from a wayward storm every 17 years or so.

In “Environmental Science for Social Change.” , Dr Wendy Clavano identifies “high risk” provinces .These flank Lingayen Gulf, Camotes Sea, Guimaras Strait, waters along Sibuyan and central Sulu, plus bays in Iligan, Lamon and Bislig. Chances of Manila flooding yearly rose to 65 percent, and Davao ’s to 90 percent.”

The burden of coping with climate changes rests on the ground level, not with Malacanang, but on local governments. As of 2014, the country had 81 provinces, 144 cities, 1,490 towns and 42,028 barangays.

The hard question is: How many of them have crafted action plans to cope with the inevitable havoc from altered weather ahead?

Albay is one of the exceptions. It has crafted risk reduction and management institutions. As a “first line of defense ”, the Center for Initiatives on Research and Climate Action drew up. land use plans, zoning and risk mapping. These redirected business and over 10,000 households towards safer locations. Hardware includes a new international airport, road networks.

Social preparation programs range from trainings like evacuation to citizens participation. Local broadcast media are also used for Education-on-Air programs on climate change. The province has ambulances, rubber boats, passenger trucks, helicopters, and fire trucks that could evacuate 160,000 people per day if needed.

Albay’s disaster response program targets pre-emptive evacuation—the province’s key response mechanism to achieve its zero casualty goal. Based on the gravity and proximity of the risk, the government calls for evacuation of the citizens. Protocols for evacuation are well established, and a ready budget for calamities is maintained.

These secured Albay’s casualty list to zero for 16 years now. Two national laws –“The Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010” and “The Climate Change Act of 2009”– were enacted based on the Albay model.

Another exception is the third- income class town of San Francisco in the Camotes Island of Cebu. Led by former Mayor Alfredo Arquillano Jr, the townsfolk created a local system, not only to reduce risks in confronting disasters, but also in facilitating efficient delivery of basic services Each barangay has a hazard map and action plan
The system enabled town officials to track before Typhoon Yolanda hit and evacuate people in a swift orderly manner — with zero casualties. It has become a world model for disaster preparedness since.

And where do the other LGUS stand?

Many have focused on trying to wangle a lager slice of the Internal Revenue Allotment fund. For what? Basketball courts, waiting sheds — and in some cases, larger allowances for themselves.

Many have disaster response programs –on paper. That guarantees the officials will be among storm refugees when –-not if-– the next storm hits.

About JUAN L. MERCADO