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Philippines

Displaced poor bear brunt of climate change

As disasters increase those hit by economic woes can expect to be hit harder still

Mark Saludes, Manila

Mark Saludes, Manila

Updated: December 06, 2015 09:34 PM GMT
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Displaced poor bear brunt of climate change

In government relocation sites for people displaced by disasters, children have to walk much further to get to school. (Photo by Pat Nabong)

 

 

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Remy Donaire reads her favorite pocketbook in a corner of a tiny hut she calls home. She sits in the empty dark space situated in the middle of a poor community on the outskirts of Manila as she waits for her husband to come home from work.

The 39-year old still remembers the day she first set foot in the squalid hut. There was no electricity, no water, and no easy access to transportation. The place was kilometers away from her husband's workplace and a long way from her children's school.

But the family had to move there. Remy and her husband chose to be relocated to another community. Nature drove them from the place they used to call home and forced them to sacrifice many things, including routines and convenience.

"My husband has to leave the house early every Monday morning and he comes home six days later," says Remy.

"It is expensive for him to come home every day," the wife says.

Remy and her husband were among thousands of families forced to leave their homes in Manila when a fierce storm struck in 2012. The heavy rains flooded communities near waterways and rivers in the where most slum dwellers live.

"It was the first time we experienced rain and flooding that bad," says Remy, who grew up near the Tullahan River in Quezon City.

"It was different some 20 years ago," she says, adding that floodwaters never reached her home in the past.

"People say the climate is changing," the housewife said. "Floodwater from the river now reaches houses as far as three blocks from it," Remy notes.

Remy's new neighbor, Sally Gonzaga, a 48-year old street vendor from the poor coastal district of Tondo in Manila, agreed to be relocated because the sea threatens her old community.

Sally was born in a shanty along the seashore and remembers the days when she and her friends used to swim in the clear waters of Manila Bay.

"Back then, we’d go swimming without worrying about getting sick. I remember my grandfather catching fish just a few meters from the beach," Sally recalls.

Even when there was a typhoon "it was fine."

"But as we grew older, the weather became harsher," Sally says, adding that in the last 10 years, every time a storm hit Manila "we moved to evacuation centers."

Most relocation sites have poor facilities and lack basic necessities for residents. (Photo by Rob Reyes)

 

Unfortunately for Sally, relocating to the outskirts was a big problem. Selling in the streets of Manila was her only source of income. Now, she cannot afford to ply her wares in the capital because of the cost of transportation. 

"I am now jobless," she says.

"The problem is the government has no clear plan for people like us. They gave us no alternative source of income.

"We were driven from the city by disasters that occur because there are no more trees and no nature to protect us," Sally says.

"It's not the government's fault, but I think it is the government's responsibility to provide us with decent jobs in these kind of places," she said.

Only the poor seem to suffer the most from natural calamities, says Vito Villegas, a motorcycle rider.

"Only the poor are displaced," he notes, adding that he has no choice but to face the difficulties for the sake of his family. "But the government should help us," he says. 

Remy, Sally, and Vito all agree that the government should regulate mining, logging, and industry in order to protect the environment.

 

Climate change and disasters

A recently released Asian Development Bank (ADB) study: "Global Increase in Climate-Related Disasters," revealed that climate-related disasters is linked not only to people’s increased exposure and vulnerability, but also to changes in temperature and rainfall resulting from rising greenhouse gases.

"Policymakers and economic advisors have long held the view that climate action is a drain on economic growth," notes Vinod Thomas, coauthor of the study and director-general of Independent Evaluation at ADB.

"But the reality is the opposite: the vast damage from climate-related disasters is an increasing obstacle to economic growth and wellbeing."

A statement released by ADB on Nov. 27 emphasizes "three implications" inherent in the findings of the study.

First, climate impacts are not just concerns for the distant future, but are already being felt.

Second, all countries are experiencing damage caused by climate-related disasters — rich and poor. However death tolls are especially high among poor people who are more likely to live in harm’s way, such as in flood-prone areas.

Thirdly, it is a mistake to think that climate action — such as switching from fossil fuels to cleaner renewable sources — will hold back economic growth.

The study also found that the frequency of intense climate-related disasters over the past four decades is associated with population exposure, measured by population density and with people's vulnerability to these events, measured by their income levels. 

"The evidence is telling us that hazards of nature are increasingly turning into disasters because of human action," says Ramon Lopez coauthor of the study and professor of economics at the University of Chile. 

"We found that disasters are exacerbated by climatic impacts at the local level as well as by climate change globally." 

Disaster risk estimates in the study illustrate some potentially big impacts. For a country facing the average of nearly one climate-related disaster a year, if carbon dioxide concentrations continue to rise by the current annual rate of 2 parts per million (or by 0.5 percent) from the already high 400 parts per million, that would see a doubling of the frequency of floods and storms in 17 years. 

 

High-risk countries

The three countries the study reviewed at high risk of climate-related disasters, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand, by one definition, have on average seven of these episodes a year. 

Any further increases in CO2 would hit these countries hard, as would be the case for other disaster-prone countries such as Bangladesh. 

"The implication is that a big part of the actions for disaster risk reduction will have to be preventive in nature, in addition to those that are reactive, such as relief and rebuilding efforts," says Lopez. 

"The relationship between climate change and the frequency of intense natural disasters provides an immediate and tangible reason why actions by countries and the global community must be urgent and decisive," says Thomas.

The first half of this decade has featured deadly climate-related disasters, among them the great floods in Thailand in 2011 and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013.  

The year 2014 was the Earth’s warmest since records began 134 years ago, and 2015 could well turn out to be hotter. While scientists hesitate to link any one of these occurrences to climate change, the association is compelling.

 

 

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