Better to be safe than sorry.
Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) smashed the Philippines in November 2013, taking 6200 lives and causing almost P600 Billion in economic damage. Tacloban, the largest city in the Eastern Visayas, was virtually obliterated. With the growing unpredictability of climate change effects, who knows which city will be hit next?
“No one knows where the next big typhoon will hit, so all cities should prepare ahead,” recommends World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Philippines) Vice-chair and CEO Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan. “Sure, relocating roads and communities to high ground, constructing seawalls, coastal barriers and establishing evacuation safe-zones will cost millions. But will you really put a price-tag on Filipino lives?”
Minimizing Climate Risks
Sitting along the Pacific typhoon belt, the Philippines is considered the third most vulnerable country to climate change. With impacts ranging from typhoons, floods, droughts to forced migration, climate change is a reality that millions of Filipinos have had to face – and as Typhoons Ondoy, Pepeng and Yolanda have demonstrated – reality does bite.
To help Pinoy cities prepare for climate impacts, WWF and the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) Foundation yesterday launched the latest version of Business Risk Assessment and the Management of Climate Impacts, a multi-year study which examines economic and climate trends to predict and prepare for likely future scenarios. “Baseline data findings are synergized with local stakeholder inputs to craft each city’s adaptation strategy,” explains BPI Foundation Executive Director and SVP Florendo Maranan.
Climate exposure, socioeconomic sensitivities, and adaptive capacities are melded to generate scores which show each city’s climate vulnerability. A chronic recommendation is to ‘climate-proof’ local infrastructure – moving coastal roads and communities to high ground, improving community drainage systems and investing in natural solutions like mangrove forests to parry inbound storms.
Launched in 2011, the study’s first phase covered the cities of Baguio, Cebu, Davao and Iloilo. Its second phase assessed Cagayan de Oro, Dagupan, Laoag and Zamboanga. For 2013, the cities of Angeles, Batangas, Naga and Tacloban were evaluated. Four more cities will be assessed for 2014.
Lifelines for Business, Trade
The westerly orientation of Batangas City shields it from the Pacific Ocean’s storms. A thriving trade hub, it is buoyed by Batangas Port, which connects the province with a host of regions and businesses. Two vital arteries connect Batangas to Manila – the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) and Southern Tagalog Arterial Road (STAR) Tollway.
Angeles City is situated inland, far from the sea. Initially a small barrio, Angeles became a rest-and-recreation center when the Americans converted Fort Stotsenberg into Clark Air Base. After the American pullout in 1991, Angeles reinvented itself as an airline hub and Freeport zone. Like Batangas, it is connected to Manila and nearby provinces via two roads – the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) and Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX).
“Batangas and Angeles are alternative gateways to Manila, offering air and sea routes to neighbouring destinations,” observes Tan. “But seaports and airports will be viable only if they provide safe and consistent movement of passengers and cargo. To maximize viability and minimize vulnerability, stakeholders must keep these lifelines in tip-top shape. In a climate-defined future, redundancy is everything.”
A well-regarded centre for religious pilgrimage, Naga City defined Bicol’s path to spirituality through its Peñafrancia Festival. Due in part to the exceptional leadership of the late Jesse Robredo, the city has evolved into a centre of higher education and trade. Naga however, remains vulnerable to flooding as it is flanked by the cloud-covered Mount Isarog, plus the Bicol river basin. To keep the city humming, effective drainage systems and alternative road routes should be created, while ensuring that the national highway that connects it with other regions experiences zero downtime.
Tacloban: The Real Cost of Climate Change
Facing Cancabato Bay in the San Juanico Strait, Tacloban City sits along the northeastern coastline of Leyte Province, facing the Pacific Ocean. WWF, BPI, and Tacloban stakeholders assessed the city’s climate adaptation plans in September 2013. One projected scenario was that a Pacific Ocean-spurred super typhoon would visit Tacloban in 2021. Sadly, that typhoon came too soon.
“Tacloban now has an excellent opportunity not just to rebuild – but to rebuild better,” says Maranan. "Let not the lessons of Tacloban be lost as we strive to build more resilient communities that are more prepared for future disasters.”
Aside from moving critical service centres like hospitals and evacuation safe-zones to high ground, vulnerable Philippines cities should invest in early warning systems.
In 1999 about 10,000 people were slain by a massive cyclone in East India. Just a month before Typhoon Yolanda hit the Philippines, another powerful cyclone smashed the Indian state of Odisha. India learned well from its 1999 catastrophe though, as a million Odishans were evacuated to shelters ahead of time. Only 21 people were lost.
“There’s a lesson to be learned from India – that human lives and businesses can be protected if we prepare ahead. Business Risk Assessment and the Management of Climate Impacts is freely available on the web. We strongly urge city planners to think ahead and use our study. Can your city really afford to be unprepared when the next Yolanda hits?” asks Tan.
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