A deluge of crises: the roots of our climate vulnerability

Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) survivors dramatize their plight during the massive survivors’ march to commemorate the first anniversary of the world’s most powerful typhoon ever to make landfall. (Photo by H.Gasmen/Bulatlat.com)
Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) survivors dramatize their plight during the massive survivors’ march to commemorate the first anniversary of the world’s most powerful typhoon ever to make landfall. (Photo by H.Gasmen/Bulatlat.com)

KALIBUTAN
By LEON DULCE

kalibutan

First of four parts
Please read also:
Second part: Polluters not paying: privatization as root of the energy crisis
Third part: Sins of commission and omission: Aquino’s climate policies
Fourth part: A world to win: people’s actions on climate change

There is no question that the Philippines is among the countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The diminutive, archipelagic nation has been ranked the top most affected country in 2013 and the fifth most long-term affected from 1994 to 2013 in the latest Global Climate Risk Index (CRI) of international NGO Germanwatch.

The Philippines’ CRI rankings means the country was among worst affected by climate-related risks not only in terms of the quantity of extreme weather events that have hit the country, but also in terms of the economic losses and death tolls as a result of their resulting disasters. In the decade covered by the ranking, the Philippines incurred economic damages amounting to US$2.78 billion and an average annual death toll of more than 900.

In 2013 alone, the Philippines sustained US$24.54 billion in damages and more than 6,000 officially recorded deaths—but with independent estimates going well into the 15,000-18,000 range—largely due to Super Typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan), the historically most powerful typhoon to ever make landfall in the world. In total, Yolanda affected more than 3.42 million families or 4.09 million individuals.

Such a calamitous situation is inevitable when our country is inherently afflicted by deep and chronic socio-economic and environmental crises that have eroded our capacities to address and adapt to destructive climate impacts.

The roots of our vulnerability

The Philippines is endowed with rich natural resources and diverse ecosystems, but we suffer from massive environmental degradation and resource depletion. We are one of the 17 mega-diverse countries in the world with more than 52,000 species of flora and fauna, 27,000 square kilometres of coral reefs, and 9.6 million hectares of fertile agricultural lands, making us rank among the world’s top fisheries and agriculture producers.

Despite these riches, we are the top fourth biodiversity hotspot in the world harbouring 737 different threatened species, only six percent of our forest cover is remaining, 40 percent of our coral reefs are considered severely degraded, and our country now has the highest food inadequacy rate among Asia’s tiger club economies.

A ‘red sea’ of turbid flood waters submerged large parts of the municipality of Santa Cruz, Zambales during Typhoon Lando. Large-scale nickel mines have caused the massive siltation.  Photo by Center for Environmental Concerns – Philippines
A ‘red sea’ of turbid flood waters submerged large parts of the municipality of Santa Cruz, Zambales during Typhoon Lando. Large-scale nickel mines have caused the massive siltation. Photo by Center for Environmental Concerns – Philippines

Various forms of development aggression, the greatest drivers in the destruction of the Philippine environment, are still at large. Around a million hectares of our lands are currently covered by large-scale mining applications, over 177,000 hectares in timber plantations masquerading as forest management agreements, and more than 1.2 million hectares under mono crop plantations. Meanwhile, 38,000 hectares of foreshore areas are covered by reclamation projects, and around 70 percent of our fisheries is exploited and controlled by foreign companies.

These development aggression projects contribute to the massive pollution already generated along the production and consumption cycle. While Metro Manila suffers from an air quality that is 13 percent above the prescribed pollution limit and an estimated daily generation of 4,000 to 7,000 tons of garbage, the countryside experiences one mine spill event or disaster occurs annually, regular exposure to toxic and hazardous agrochemicals, and regular oil spills and marine waste dumping incidents.

The impacts of plunder and pollution contribute to the widespread poverty and social injustices that have afflicted the Filipino people. Slave wages, labor contractualization, massive unemployment and underemployment, soaring prices of commodities and public services, and the landlessness of around 90 percent of Filipino peasants have completely eroded the capacity of our communities to address and adapt to environmental impacts.

Layers of crisis

The impacts of global warming and its resultant climate variability thus add another layer of crisis on Filipino communities already mired in poverty and environmental destruction, and this is occurring already in the present.

Increased temperature, increased extreme heat and rainfall events, rising sea levels, and increased frequency and severity of climate-related natural hazards such as typhoons and droughts are already affecting the state of agriculture, fisheries, health, water, coastal integrity, and biodiversity in the country.

The worsening climate impacts and worsening vulnerability is apparent over the past five years alone. Four of the top five most destructive typhoon disasters occurred during the past five years under the present administration of President Noynoy Aquino, amounting to a total of P185.40 billion in damage costs.

COST OF DAMAGES.The most destructive typhoons occurred in just under the past decade. Data from various reports of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council
COST OF DAMAGES.The most destructive typhoons occurred in just under the past decade. Data from various reports of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council

Government response to Super Typhoon Yolanda’s-aftermath was a full-on demonstration of state neglect on one hand, and privatization of disaster rehabilitation and reconstruction on the other. The Aquino government’s emergency response was vastly unprepared for Yolanda’s scale, but was fundamentally flawed in its reactive, politicized, and corruption-ridden program on disaster to begin with.

Aquino practically gave up responsibility for reconstruction and rehabilitation to big business interests, where corporations divided among themselves 16 out of the 24 identified ‘development areas’ affected by Yolanda, but left alone 54 remote and interior municipalities and cities.

Meanwhile, the declaration of a ‘No Dwelling Zone’ policy over coastal and other high-risk areas are displacing hundreds of thousands of families whose basic needs and livelihoods are linked to their homes located in these areas. Exempted from this declaration are tourism, industry, and other commercial zones.

Profit, not people

The immense exploitation and criminal neglect of our environment and our people—our natural and human resources—is part and parcel of the enduring subjugation of Philippine society and economy to imperialist interests of the United States and other advanced capitalist nations.

Agricultural plantation workers in Mindanao suffer from labor exploitation, agrochemical pollution, and, in 2012, the flash floods of Typhoon Pablo. (Contributed photo by REAP Mindanao/Bulatlat.com)
Agricultural plantation workers in Mindanao suffer from labor exploitation, agrochemical pollution, and, in 2012, the flash floods of Typhoon Pablo. (Contributed photo by REAP Mindanao/Bulatlat.com)

Globalization policies and programs imposed by the US and other capitalist countries, and international financial institutions such as the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), have systematically paved the way for the privatization of public utilities and social services, deregulation of trade, and the liberalization of strategic economic sectors such as industries and agriculture—in other words, a system where profit interests, not the people’s, are the main motive.

According to a recent study by Greenpeace Philippines, our national economy could suffer a mean loss of 2.2 to 6.7 percent of our Gross Domestic Product by 2100 on an annual basis if we are unable to address the climate change’s impacts on our economy, health, environment, and natural hazard risks. But the Philippines, despite being among the most vulnerable to climate impacts, contributes minimally to the global greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change at just less than one percent of the total.

Leon Dulce is the campaign coordinator of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment.

This is the first of four parts of a series on the Filipino people’s struggle to confront the climate crisis on the road to the APEC and COP 21 international summits.
Please read also:
Second part: Polluters not paying: privatization as root of the energy crisis
Third part: Sins of commission and omission: Aquino’s climate policies
Fourth part: A world to win: people’s actions on climate change
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