Climate disasters in PH becoming costlier

By David Dizon,

Posted at Jun 28 2012 05:47 PM | Updated as of Jun 29 2012 06:16 PM

The 5 most destructive storms to hit the country have occurred in the past 4 years, accounting for over P78.8 billion in damages from 2008-2011, data from the Office of Civil Defense reveals. 

MANILA, Philippines – Pop quiz: what is the most destructive storm that has affected the Philippines in the past 20 years? If you answered Tropical Storm Ondoy (Ketsana) in 2009, you’d be dead wrong. 

The most destructive tropical cyclone to hit the country actually occurred a week after Ondoy. Typhoon Pepeng (international codename Parma) killed 465 people and left damages of over P27.3 billion in Luzon. It is equivalent to 27.4% of the P750.29 billion whole-year collections of the Bureau of Internal Revenue for 2009. 

In comparison, Ondoy left P11 billion in damages to agriculture, infrastructure and livelihood in September 2009. Over 400 people in Metro Manila and surrounding areas were killed. It is considered the 5th most destructive storm to hit the country and the worst to hit Metro Manila in the past 30 years. 

Data from the Office of Civil Defense reveal that climate disasters, particularly storms, are exacting a heavy toll on the Philippine economy. 

The 5 most destructive storms to hit the country have occurred in the past 4 years, accounting for over P78.8 billion in damages from 2008-2011, according to data from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. 

A Philippine Institute for Development Studies paper, meanwhile, said the average annual damage caused by disasters amounts to P19.7 billion in the past 2 decades, equivalent to an average of 0.5 percent of gross domestic product each year.

List of Most Damaging Tropical Cyclones that affected the Philippines from 1971 to 2011  

Typhoon PEPENG
Sep 30-Oct 10
Sep 24-Sep 28
Typhoon FRANK
Jun 18-Jun 23
Typhoon JUAN
Oct 16- Oct 21
Tropical Storm ONDOY
Sep 24-Sep 27
Typhoon RUPING
Nov 08 - Nov 14
Typhoon ROSING
Oct 31-Nov 04
Sep 30-Oct 7
Typhoon LOLENG
Oct 15-Oct25
Sep 25-Sep29
Typhoon REMING
Oct 21- Oct 26
Typhoon UNSANG
Nov 28 – Dec 3
Typhoon ILIANG
Oct 21- Oct 26
Typhoon COSME
May 14-May 20
Typhoon CALOY
May 09-May 15

Source: Office of Civil Defense, National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, Philippines

Speaking to reporters, Presidential Assistant II for Climate Change Elisea Gozun admitted that President Aquino is gravely concerned about the heavy toll wreaked by storms. This is after several destructive storms hit the country, the Philippines suffered P26.5 billion in damages in 2011 due to the 10 most destructive storms for that year. 

“The cost is too high. He is prioritizing the capability such as getting more Doppler radars for weather bureau PAGASA, more rain gauges and even rainfall warnings. Sometimes, a storm may not be very strong but the rainfall is heavy,” she said, referring to Ondoy. 

For this year, the National Economic and Development Authority is undertaking a climate public expenditure institutional review of the budgets of at least 4 departments -- public works, energy, environment, and agriculture – as well as several local governments to see if costs of climate change adaptation, mitigation are factored in. 

Gozun said it makes good sense for the government to lead by example when it comes to climate adaptation and mitigation. 

She said the Department of Science and Technology is doing vulnerability assessment of the likely impact of climate change on the agricultural and fisheries sectors. Likewise, the Department of Transportation and Communications will be ensuring that major airports in the country will be built inland instead of coastal areas to guard against rising sea levels. 

At the local government level, she said the increase in rainfall has prompted some LGUs to out up rainwater harvesting facilities. 

Gozun said the memories of disasters such as Ondoy have shocked some Filipinos to take seriously the destructive effects of a severe storm. In Marikina, which was among the worst hit by Ondoy, the local government has set up a community-based early warning system that alerts residents on what to look out for in case of possible flooding and to evacuate immediately. 

Albay leads the way 

Sometimes, the memory of a devastating storm is not enough to push residents to flee for safety. It is in these instances, Gozun said, that local leaders have to impose their will to make sure that their constituents are safe. 

Gozun said one Philippine province leading the way in climate change adaptation and mitigation is Albay, under the leadership of former congressman and now Gov. Joey Salceda. 

Salceda, who earlier described Albay as the country’ “disaster laboratory,” became a firm believer in preventive action against nature’s fury after super typhoon Reming struck Albay in 2006. 

The storm, which was packing 320 kilometers per hour (kph) winds, was the strongest to hit the country in 50 years and left at least P5.4 billion in damages. 

Salceda said he was shocked at how heavy rains brought by Reming brought rivers of lahar to towns near Mayon Volcano. This prompted him to institutionalize a preemptive evacuation strategy in the province while pursuing a zero-casualty objective during disasters. 

Gozun said the governor has taken the zero-casualty objective to its logical extreme: forcibly evacuating residents who refuse to leave their homes despite the threat of floods or lahar flows. Salceda also gives out free rice to residents if they evacuate voluntarily. 

“This is where political will comes in. It’s getting people out of harm’s way, whether they like it or not. They might say - why are you not allowing us to return to where we live? It’s more convenient for us. It is the task of government to safeguard lives. It might be inconvenient for you but we want to make sure you are alive,” she said. 

Last year, President Aquino inaugurated the first ever Climate Change Academy in Albay, the first of its kind in the country. 

Salceda told reporters that the academy teaches short-term courses on Albay’s own disaster risk reduction experiences. Many of their students come from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, Kenya, Nepal, at least 10 provinces in the Philippines and a number of local government units. 

“They go there for 2 weeks to see what we do here in Albay. That is why we want to institutionalize it so that there is a knowledge base being formed through interaction with those who go there to learn climate change adaptation and mitigation,” he said.