Rising sea levels are slowly eating up villages near the town of Aparri in the northern Philippines. (Photo by Mark Saludes)
The sea is engulfing a community of 40 households in the northern Philippines where people rely on whatever the ocean can offer for a living.People have already started losing their homes, their school and their chapel to the sea. The water is taking over land that is home to the poorest of the poor in the region.Rolando Yunson, a 70-year-old resident of Bisagu, a village near the town of Aparri in Cagayan province, said the sea "is leaving nothing but electricity posts.""People were forced to leave and look for other land to resettle," said Yunson.
Bisagu is located along an estuary where the Cagayan River pours into the Philippine Sea.
Rolando Yunson, a 70-year-old resident of Bisagu in Cagayan province, stands on an islet where he used to live. (Photo by Mark Saludes)
Plunging people into povertyIn Capacuan, a village in the northern town of Rizal, farmer Daniel Ranojo has been trying to figure out how to make it through the dry season. He said the community was still recovering from the impact of a strong typhoon last year when drought devastated their crops.In September 2018, Typhoon Mangkhut, a Category 5 storm, hit the northern Philippines, leaving US$3.77 billion worth of damage to agriculture and infrastructure.
Cagayan province, where Ranojo has his farm, was one of the hardest hit areas.He had to apply for a loan to buy seeds and fertilizers, hoping that the next harvest would be enough to cover the losses. In January, El Nino, a weather pattern associated with reduced rainfall, hit the province, resulting in a drought."We have nothing now," said Ranojo. In April, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said the dry weather caused more than US$95 million worth of damage to agriculture.The government agency revealed that a total of 164,672 farmers had been affected by the drought, with 26 local governments declaring a "state of calamity."Sylwyn Sheen Alba, coordinator of the faith-based group ACT Philippines Forum, said climate change hurts poor Filipino communities the most."And the damage is extreme," she added. "People on the peripheries, who are also victims of social inequalities, cannot recover from successive destructive disasters because of a lack of access to resources."The 2018 World Risk Index noted that the Philippines is third among the 171 most vulnerable countries to natural disasters and climate change. Alba blamed "social and economic inequalities, environmental degradation, poor governance and worsening human rights conditions" for the impact of climate change on the poor.
'Ecological conversion'Jing Rey Henderson of Caritas Philippines said "caring for the environment is also a move to protect the poor from the harsh impacts of climate change."Church leaders have repeatedly called for "ecological conversion ... to live in harmony with nature rather than dominate it" following the release of Pope Francis' encyclical of the environment Laudato si’.Henderson said climate change and its effects "are real and unavoidable, but we can do something to mitigate its impact on communities.""A rich family can get out of the scorching heat of the sun by turning on an air-conditioning unit but a poor family in an off-grid village will only rely on trees," she said. Father Catral said poor communities, especially farming villages, will be the first to be affected by the impact of climate change.The priest, however, said farmland with no crops means markets without produce. "We must understand that everything on the planet is intertwined," said the priest. "If a town losses a village because of rising sea levels, it means a country has lost a fishing village," he added.