Of Yolanda, drought, and deforestation: A decade of sweeping environmental trials in PH

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 30 2019 03:46 PM | Updated as of Dec 30 2019 06:34 PM

Rain clouds covers the skyline in Manila on July 17, 2018. Ted Aljibe, AFP

Climate change is here. And it’s changing not only the environment but the way we live.

For decades, scientists and environmental activists have been trying to convince world leaders to recognize this in order to advocate for stronger climate action. But for climate-vulnerable countries like the Philippines, there is little need for convincing as the change is well underway.

From explosive supertyphoons to rising sea levels, the Philippines has witnessed a number of catastrophes that show just how much a warming climate is affecting ecosystems and societies.

In this piece, we look back at the important environment stories of the decade.

1. EXTREME WEATHER

The Philippines was still reeling from the effects of Typhoon Ondoy, which caused widespread flooding in Metro Manila, when it welcomed the new decade in 2010. Since then, the country has become the face of climate-vulnerable countries plagued by strong tropical cyclones.

Then came Supertyphoon Yolanda (Haiyan) that struck central Philippines in 2013, and left over 6,000 people dead and a thousand more missing. Many villages were wiped out because of storm surges while 33 million coconut trees were devastated, leaving many farmers without livelihood and food.

A busy street just beside the port area where a container ship still rests amid ruins of houses in Barangay Anibong, Tacloban City. Fernando Sepe, Jr., ABS-CBN News

Pope Francis himself visited Tacloban in 2015 to meet survivors of the supertyphoon. A few months after his visit, he released his encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si.

In 2016, the World Meteorological Organization reported to the United Nations that more than half of major extreme weather events from 2011 to 2015 were linked to human-induced climate change.

Stronger typhoons are due to increasingly warm waters that fuel. Even before Yolanda, there have been projections that parts of the Philippines will experience extreme rainfall events because of the warming global temperature.

Other strong typhoons that devastated the Philippines in the last decade were Typhoon Sendong in 2011 and Typhoon Pablo in 2012, which both left a thousand people killed.

Unsurprisingly, the Philippines was recently ranked by the Global Climate Risk Index as the second most affected country in the world by disasters and extreme weather.

Reference: https://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/212957/icode/

2. CORAL BLEACHING, OCEAN ACIDITY

This photo was taken during a marine expedition at Benham Rise last May 26, 2016. Branching corals contribute to the complexity of the reef. Oceana Philippines

“The notion of many of climate change is that it is a ticking time bomb. This is incorrect, this is wrong,” Red Constantino, Executive Director of the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities, told ABS-CBN back in September. “That time bomb has exploded already. Many years ago and it is slowly still exploding in terms of the impacts that are going to wreak havoc in the country’s ecosystems and its economy.”

At that time, Constantino was weighing in on the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on oceans and glaciers. According to the report, global warming has reached 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels, which is just half a degree away from having serious and possibly irreversible consequences to the environment. Because of the warming, caused mainly by carbon or greenhouse gas emissions, 90 percent of the excess heat of the planet has been taken in by the world’s oceans, resulting in ocean acidification and other phenomenon.

Acidification threatens marine species such as corals that need calcium carbonate for their shells. Besides having acidic seawater, climate change also contributes to coral bleaching or when environmental stresses cause corals to lose their color and source of food and energy.

Mass coral bleaching in the Philippines was first reported in 1998. Since then, cases of coral bleaching have been reported in different parts of the country.

Reference: https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1025556

3. SEA LEVEL RISE, SINKING CITIES

Bamboo huts risen on stilts are pictured in the submerged coastal village Sitio Pariahan, Bulakan, Bulacan, north of Manila, Philippines, on November 25, 2019. Eloisa Lopez, Reuters

As early as 2012, the Asian Development Bank has estimated that at least 13.6 million Filipinos were at risk of being displaced by 2050 due to rising levels brought about by climate change.

Besides coastal flooding, sea-level rise has also been linked to the phenomenon of “sinking cities.” In addition to the subsidence of land due to overuse of groundwater, rising water levels are fast transforming low-lying islands into a community of houses on stilts. One example of this is Sitio Pariahan in Manila, which is sinking by four centimeters each year.

4. DROUGHT

A farmer in Bocaue, Bulacan shows a dried up part of his rice field due to lack of irrigation on May 15, 2014. Farmers fear climate change is affecting their livelihood, citing flooding for planting late and now insufficient irrigation supply due to the decreased water supply caused by El Niño. Gigie Cruz, ABS-CBN News

While some parts of the Philippines endured typhoons and flooding, some provinces have also suffered due to drought linked to climate change.

In 2016, a long dry spell ravaged the province of Kidapawan, resulting in a large farmers’ protest that ended in violence.

Sustainability scientist Laurence Delina said the Kidapawan protest is an example of climate change’s multiple impacts.

“It’s not just agricultural produce that will be deeply impacted,” he said, explaining that it can result in social conflict and inequalities. “People became violent because of that. They have nothing to eat,” he told ABS-CBN earlier this month.

5. DENGUE AND CLIMATE CHANGE

Just this year, the Philippines and other countries saw a surge in dengue cases. Reports said infections have climbed since the 1970s partly because of the rising temperatures and irregular rainfall. Experts say the extremely warm temperature in 2019 led to the dengue spike. 

Studies show that the effects of climate change will result in the evolution and, at the same time, extinction of some insect species.

Unfortunately, because of insufficient funding and manpower, there are not a lot of local studies on how climate change is affecting insect biodiversity in the Philippines.


ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION

While the Filipino public became more aware about the effects of climate change in the last decade, there is still much to improve when it comes to the state of environmental degradation in the Philippines. Because of this, a number of other environment-related news also made headlines in the last 10 years. Here’s a quick round-up:

PH AS TOP PLASTIC POLLUTER

According to the United Nations, around 8 million tons of plastic are dumped in the ocean every year. A large part of this comes from Asia, with the Philippines among the top 5 countries polluting the seas.

Unfortunately, this has led to the death of many marine animals, who were believed to have ingested plastic. 

A number of whales and dolphins were found along Philippine shores this year and last year.

MINING AND DEFORESTATION

Photo from Gina Lopez Facebook page.

While mining has long been a contentious issue in the Philippines, the issue further came to the fore during the term of the late environment secretary Gina Lopez. A known environmental advocate, Lopez led a crackdown against mining firms that violated the country’s environmental laws, in an attempt to protect the environment. However, Congress denied her appointment and many of the companies have since continued their operations. 

Mining, quarrying and deforestation were usually blamed whenever widespread flooding occurs near mountainous regions. This was the case for the 2011 typhoon Sendong.

According to the Forest Management Bureau, the Philippines loses around 47,000 hectares of forest cover each year.