Saturday, November 27, 2021

Special Report: City on the brink (Conclusion)

FEW people cared much for geography or construction until the big earthquakes and severe typhoons began coming more often. Now everyone wants to know if his home is structurally sound and in the right place.

Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology supervising science research specialist Dr. Rhommel Grutas said buildings at greater risk are those built before 1970.

The National Building Code of the Philippines was enacted only in 1972. In 1992, following the destructive 1990 Luzon earthquake, the code was revised so buildings can withstand an Intensity 8 earthquake, he said.

Even a fort, though, would look weak sitting next to the ocean, before seen as a source of bounty, now feared as a source of storm surges and tsunamis.

Cebu City is particularly vulnerable.

Two-thirds of its population lives on the city’s flat land, which is found “only along the shorelines that extend a few kilometers inland,” according to the Cebu City Government website.


This is partly why rich countries, blamed for much of the global warming that is said to have created stronger storms and rising seas, balked at the idea of compensating poorer countries for damage caused by climate change, during the 19th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change last November in Poland.

They did not want to be made to pay for the decisions by countries to put their own citizens in harm’s way in the first place.

A study of greenhouse gas emissions by Concordia University in Montreal published in Environmental Research Letters showed that just seven countries were responsible for 60 percent of the nearly one degree Celsius rise in average global temperature from 1750 to 2005.

The United States was responsible for almost 20 percent of the rise in global temperature, China and Russia (eight percent each), Brazil and India (seven percent each), and Germany and the United Kingdom (five percent each), the study said.


So a major relocation is in order.

Before super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) struck on November 8, 2013, some 15,271 families or 71,040 persons were evacuated in Cebu province.

If local governments had implemented the prohibitions in the 1976 Water Code of the Philippines to begin with, no one would be living near waterways, and a lot fewer people would need evacuation, allowing local officials to focus on other aspects of disaster response, like rebuilding structures after calamities, instead of searching for bodies.

But it’s a tall order.

Even the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical & Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) has problems with site safety.

Asked whether its weather station behind the Tacloban City airport struck by Yolanda’s storm surge would be moved farther from the coast, Anthony Lucero, chief of the Climate Monitoring Prediction Center of Pagasa’s Climatology and Agrometeorology Division, said they would likely just build a higher station building.

“We usually just rebuild the station after a storm because if we transfer it, we’ll have a problem with land ownership,” he said.

Then there are the government agencies, some representatives of whom hesitate to reveal what they know about the geological hazards of the province for fear of committing “economic sabotage,” in the words of one of them.

With their silence, the toll could only rise.

Unlucky poor

The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction’s (UNISDR) Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2012 said the poor pay the highest price during disasters, citing 2009’s typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana), which caused $4.3 billion in damage in the Philippines, 90 percent of which was “borne by poor urban households.”

The trend will continue, as migration to urban areas accelerates.

In “Ripple Effects: Population and Coastal Regions,” published by the Population Reference Bureau in 2003, Liz Creel writes that rapid urbanization has encouraged some 1,000 people to move to the coasts in the Philippines each day.

Of 11 Southeast Asian countries, the Philippines had the highest annual expected losses due to disasters associated with tropical cyclones, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and droughts at nearly 0.8 percent of Gross Domestic Product, the UNISDR report said.

This jeopardizes the government’s efforts to meet the UN’s Millennium Development Goal of halving between 1990 and 2015 the proportion of people living below the national poverty threshold.

The target is 17.2 percent. But in 2012, even before Yolanda wrecked more than a million homes and displaced four million people last year, the poverty rate at 25.2 percent was very far from the target, the National Statistical Coordination Board said.

A new deal on global carbon emission cuts, to replace the Kyoto Protocol, isn’t due until 2015 in Paris, and won’t go into effect till 2020.

In the meantime, the Philippines will just have to disaster proof itself where able, then brace for nature’s wrath. (Cherry Ann T. Lim)

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