Phillipine Disaster: A Predicted Consequence of Climate Change
December 21, 2011
On Friday night, the compact but deadly tropical storm Washi swept across the central and southern Philippines killing hundreds. According to CNN, death toll counts range from 713 to 927. In addition, scores of people are unaccounted for and thousands homeless.
Although Washi was not an especially intense storm with peak winds of just 45-55 mph, the torrential rains and resulting mudslides caught the especially vulnerable region offguard, as Wunderground’s Jeff Masters explains:
…since the rains fell on regions where the natural forest had been illegally logged or converted to pineapple plantations, the heavy rains were able to run off quickly on the relatively barren soils and create devastating flash floods. Since the storm hit in the middle of the night, and affected an unprepared population that had no flood warning system in place, the death toll was tragically high.
The tragedy that struck the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan was an event waiting to happen. It was foretold three years ago, but was dismissed by lawmakers as “too alarmist.”
Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan, chief executive of the World Wide Fund for Nature-Philippines (WWF), said Monday the events in Northern Mindanao over the weekend mirrored the prediction. “It was an exact fit,” Tan said.
Environmentalists said a simulation of the effects of extreme weather events from climate change such as saltwater intrusion, sea level rise and intense tropical cyclones, showed that major Philippine cities, including Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, were at risk of massive flooding.
The simulation of the effects of extreme weather phenomena was drafted in 2009 by the Philippine Imperative for Climate Change (PICC), WWF and Filipino scientists.
“At best, this might provide a very rough indicator of areas that may be more vulnerable to sea level rise, storm surge, saltwater intrusion or a combination thereof,” the group’s presentation said.
Nereus Acosta, who headed the PICC and currently serves as the presidential adviser for environment, said the simulation showed that the coastal cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan in Northern Mindanao would be ravaged by massive floods from the overflow of river basins and sea level increase.
Acosta and Tan said their findings were scoffed at when it was shown to lawmakers three years ago. “They said I was being too alarmist,” Acosta said.
Tan said people should be rightly alarmed by the PICC report. “This is the reality,” he said.
The head of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said the huge volume of water that Sendong dumped on Northern Mindanao was unexpected.
“The people did not expect this and the government also did not expect this, that we will have 181 millimeters of rain. This is not in the path of typhoons,” NDRRMC Executive Director Benito Ramos said on Sunday.
The areas hit hardest in the Philippines had never seen such widespread damage or heavy rain in their lifetime. Thousands of people had to climb up on the roof’s of their house as flood waters rose nearly three feet in one hour. People were swept out to sea while others were buried alive in mudslides due to the higher elevation in the area. The mayor of Iligan, Lawrence Cruz, said, “It’s the worst flood in the history of our city. It happened so fast, at a time when people were asleep.”
The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) told residents that Washi was expected to make “landfall over Surigao del Sur early Friday afternoon and by Saturday afternoon, at 220 km East Northeast of Puerto Princesa City. By Sunday afternoon, it will be at 260 km West Northwest of Puerto Princesa City.” The last storm to compare to Washi was when tropical storm Ketsana pushed into the region back in 2009. In 2009, Ketsana killed 747 people and resulted in over a billion dollars of damage, making it the worst tropical cyclone in the western Pacific for 2009.