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Friday, January 14, 2011

La Niña brings torrential rain, floods to Philippines killing 42

The floods in Queensland have been tragic - similar weather and climate factors have brought tragedy to the Philippines. This is the cost of global warming.

Torrential Rains and flooding have battered 25 provinces in the Philippines over the last two weeks. Flooding and mudslides have killed 42 people, with 8 injured and 5 people missing. A damage bill to agriculture, housing and infrastructure has been estimated to be 900 million pesos (about US$23million).

The massive flooding affected over 1.3 million people from 144 towns in the eastern provinces. 101 evacuation centres were set up to temporarily house people. More than 22,000 people remain in government-run temporary shelters while waiting for floodwaters to ebb, with nearly 1,300 houses damaged or destroyed.

Soldiers and government personnel are continuing to evacuate more people in Samar and nearby Leyte island according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC) bulletin issued January 13.

Nationwide farmers group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP, Peasant Movement of the Philippines) and and Samahan han Gudti nga Parag-uma ha Sinirangan Bisayas (SAGUPA-SB) has blamed massive mining operations for some of the destructive effects of flashflooding and mudslides by heavy rains.

“This is very enraging as the Aquino government has no program to protect the people from environmental destruction, worse, it is promoting it through its programs such as the PPP and mining operations. Aquino did not promise junking the Mining Act of 1995 and obviously continuing its implementation,” said Danilo Ramos, KMP Secretary-General in a media release.

The torrential rains were a combined effect of the northeast monsoon and the tail end of a cold front that started on December 29, 2010 brought on by La Niña. Rain and thunderstorms continue across many of the Philippines 80 provinces.

A weather advisory was issued by Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) on January 13 warning residents in low lying areas to take appropriate action against possible flashfloods and landslides:
"The combined effect of the Northeast Monsoon (AMIHAN) and the tail-end of a cold front will continue to affect Luzon and Visayas. These weather systems will bring scattered rainshowers and isolated thunderstorms over Northern and Central Luzon, the Eastern section of Southern Luzon and the whole of Visayas becoming widespread rains over the provinces of Quezon, Camarines provinces, Catanduanes, ALbay, Sorsogon, Samar and Leyte provinces. Residents in low lying areas are advised to take appropriate actions against possible flashfloods and landslides."

On January 11 Senators Loren Legarda and Francis Pangilinan called on concerned sectors to brace for the impact of La Niña this year advising all local government units to participate in United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) in making their cities and municipalities more resilient to natural calamities.

Legarda, chair of the Senate committee on climate change, said “This serves as a warning to us of what we should expect in the coming days and months. The UN campaign will help us become more prepared when disasters occur. We must prepare our people to adapt to a changing climate. We have to learn from the lessons of devastating disasters we have experienced year in, year out. We should start the year with a firm resolve of not tolerating any casualties or losses,” Legarda said.

Pangilinan, Senate committee on agriculture chairman, warned that the incessant rains experienced in Southern Leyte and Albay could result in a full blown agricultural crisis unless the officials of the national government and local government start preparing for worst-case scenarios.

He warned that the country was just starting to experience the effects of the La Niña and that the government meteorological agency had warned more typhoons could be expected this year from January to March from the influence of La Niña.

“The country’s agricultural sector has already taken blows from the combined effects of the drought caused by El Niño and the series of typhoons that followed it last year. We experienced negative growth from January to September of 2010,” Pangilinan said. “Something must be done right away, and the earlier we come up with these measures, the more we can shield our countrymen from a looming disaster and threat to our food security,"

According to a report in The Philippine Star, Peasant and farmers groups have called for a moratorium on land rents to easethe crisis. “Aside from quick and substantial economic relief and assistance, we strongly compel the Aquino administration to impose moratorium on payment of land rent of farms in devastated farming communities,” said KMP secretary-general Danilo Ramos. Farm rents quite often equate to 50 to 70 per cent of farmers produce.

Like Australia, La Niña and warm sea surface temperatures has resulted in increased precipitation and more intense rainfall events in the Phillipines.

In a Reuters article prominent U.S. climate scientist Kevin Trenberth said floods and the intense La Nina were a combination of factors.

High ocean temperatures in the Indian Ocean near Indonesia early last year as well as the rapid onset of La Nina after the last El Nino ended in May has brought about the increased rainfall.

"The rapid onset of La Nina meant the Asian monsoon was enhanced and the over 1 degree Celsius anomalies in sea surface temperatures led to the flooding in India and China in July and Pakistan in August," he told Reuters in an email.

"The extra water vapor fuels the monsoon and thus alters the winds and the monsoon itself and so this likely increases the rainfall further," said Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

"So it is easy to argue that 1 degree Celsius sea surface temperature anomalies gives 10 to 15 percent increase in rainfall," he added.

The WWF highlighted the IPCC 4th Assessment Report found that the Philippines was vulnerable to climate change with:
* Increase in mean annual, maximum and minimum temperatures by 0.14°C between 1971-2000. Increase in annual mean rainfall since 1980s and in number of rainy days since 1990s
* Increased occurrence of landslides and floods in 1990 and 2004
* On average 20 cyclones cross the Philippines Area of Responsibility (PAR) with about 8-9 making land fall each year; with an increase of 4.2 in the frequency of cyclones entering PAR during the period 1990-2003
* Decrease of rice yield associated with increase of temperature (0.35 °C and 1.13°C for maximum and minimum respectively during 1979-2003)

The extreme torrential rain and floods experienced in Pakistan, Philippines and Australia are all signs of global warming. While diplomats continue to dither over a global climate agreement, it is becoming increasingly obvious that extreme weather related natural disasters will impose substantial costs, not least in lives lost in both developing and developed countries.

* Situation Report No 33 (PDF), National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC) issued January 13, 2011
* Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), Jan 6, 2011 - Groups blame mining as cause of flash floods, landslide in Eastern Visayas
* The Philippine Star, Jan 11, 2011 - 'Brace for strong La Niña'
* Photo Flooding in Iba, Zambales, Philippines taken on September 23, 2009 by Trees for the Future on Flickr, Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0) licensed.

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