Climate change today and tomorrow

ROSES & THORNS - Alejandro R. Roces () - July 17, 2008 - 12:00am

Typhoon Frank blew through the Philippines late last month; leaving the wreckage of family, farms, towns and infrastructure in its wake. The most visible image of the havoc of Typhoon Frank is, of course, the MV Princess of the Stars; a floating mausoleum and testament to senseless death and waste. Past the horrific deaths, we fear what the environmental fallout, potentially caused by the toxic chemicals in its hold, may be. This has become the international and national face to a tragedy that far outstrips any recent typhoon. It has been reported that there has been P12 billion worth of damage done throughout 49 provinces and 15 regions; thousands are still reported missing or dead. To put this in perspective, during an average year the Philippines is hit by 20 typhoons, usually amounting to P15 billion worth of damage. We truly live up to our reputation as one of the most natural disaster prone countries in the world. Yet, the Filipino continues on. We have been touched by the amount of care and aid that has poured from all parts of the Philippines to help the victims of Typhoon Frank. The Filipino truly is remarkable.

With cleanup of Typhoon Frank still ahead, and the specter of more typhoons yet looming, we wonder at the cause of these killer calamities. In the last few years, it seems that there has been a rise in killer natural disasters: from Hurricane Katrina to the Indonesian tsunami to out-of-control fires throughout the world, disasters seem to be on the rise. The buzz word cause has been climate change. Climate change appears to be a reality; whether you believe it is caused by natural cycles, is man-made, or a combination of both, global weather patterns are changing and weather phenomena are increasing in intensity. Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Australia over the weekend; on his agenda is the need to raised awareness on climate change. We wholeheartedly agree with his sentiment that, “We have to give impulse to rediscovering our responsibility and to find an ethical way to change our way of life.”

Pope Benedict also stated that world politicians should be “capable of responding to the great ecological challenge and to be up to the task of this challenge.” In post-Katrina affected areas, the United States government struggled tremendously to meet the needs of the people and communities. Even in the most affluent nation in the world, disaster and crisis response was too slow to save human lives.

The world is changing and the ramifications of this change are still unknown. We may see more violent typhoons, rising sea levels and more rain (or even less rain) and we need to be prepared for these contingencies. For example, an effect of poorly maintained sewage and drainage systems is dengue fever. The mosquito that spreads dengue grows in stagnant water left behind from rain. Right now, countries in Latin America are in the grips of a dengue fever epidemic, caused by poor city drainage systems and heavy rain. If we are going to be lashed by typhoons and rain this year, are our city’s sewer and drainage systems up to the task of preventing floods and stagnant water? The Philippines is the most natural disaster-affected country in the world. It is located within the Pacific Ring of Fire where 90 percent of the world’s earthquakes and 80 percent of the world’s largest earthquakes occur. We need all our decision makers, from politicians to the private sector, to take up the challenge of Pope Benedict and create a comprehensive disaster response plan for the Philippines. For centuries we have survived and flourished on these islands, we need to make sure we continue to do so.

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