The era of life-changing megastorms

By: Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos September 10,2017 - 10:41 PM

Atty. Gloria Ramos

What we call in the Philippines and in Asia as typhoons are called cyclones in Africa and Australia and hurricanes in the Americas. Since August 25, some of the Caribbean countries, the United States and earthquake-ravaged Mexico have to contend with two strong hurricanes in a row that seemed so impossible in the past — Harvey, Irma and soon, Juan and Katia.

Is climate change causing such extreme weather events?

“The vast majority of scientists have no doubt that extreme weather is connected to climate change. While climate change may not be directly causing such events it is to blame for the increasing frequency and strength with which they hit” (http://www.dw.com/en/climate-change-makes-weather-extremes-the-new-normal/a-38085847).

Evacuation of a staggering seven million people? Only a deadly monster can make possible one of the largest emergency evacuations in the history of the United States. Oh, yes, the monstrous Hurricane Irma is making its dangerous presence felt and so soon after the catastrophic Hurricane Harvey heavily impacted Houston. Said to be Atlantic’s strongest hurricane by far, it is driving hordes of people away from their homes and comfort zones to seek safer shelter elsewhere outside its path.

Hurricane Irma, with its powerful 185 kph wind force, was expected to make landfall in the Florida Keys in the afternoon of Sunday, Philippine time. After leaving a trail of destruction in the Carribean, including ravaging 95 percent of the building on the Barbuda Island and Cuba, it threatens the entire Florida west coast with 12- to 15-foot storm surges.

Political authorities and media made visible efforts to make people understand the magnitude of the storm, what to expect and to leave and prioritize their safety and not their worldly possessions.

The mention of storm surges makes us remember Super Typhoon Yolanda, a.k.a. Haiyan, which, when it hit our country in 2013, broke records when it made landfall as the world’s strongest typhoon with winds of 190–195 miles per hour. Over 6,000 lives were lost, thousands unaccounted for and left billions of pesos’ worth of destroyed properties.

The alleged failure to understand “storm surge” was even used as a reason to explain the decision of government authorities in having people stay in relief centers near the coast where many were trapped and did not survive. Not justifiable at all, considering that our law, RA 10121, the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010, by then already mandated our local government units to ensure that well-planned disaster risk reduction and management plans and the readiness and resiliency of the constituents to disasters are in place.

Considering our extreme vulnerability to the dire effects of climate change, there is an extreme urgency for disaster risk reduction and management to be integrated in land use plan and development as well. Section 106 of the Local Government Code of 1991 mandates each local government unit to prepare a comprehensive multisectoral development plan to be initiated by its local development council and approved by its Sanggunian. Yet how many local government units have or updated the Comprehensive Land Use Plan which already takes into account the impacts of climate change?

The proposed bill on National Land Use and Management Act integrating disaster risk reduction and climate risk planning and prioritizing ecological integrity is much-needed and has been languishing in Congress for so long. President Duterte mentioned it in his State of the Nation Address, but nothing much has been heard about the bill.

With government’s slow response, except for a few, it is the duty of every citizen to move government to action or else many will suffer from our own apathy and neglect.

We should reach out to our local governments and national agencies and even private sector on how we can collaborate and establish systems and mechanisms so our people can be more aware and ready to cope with the consequences of these weather aberrations.

Pope Francis’ Encyclical, Laudati Si, emphasizes that important role of citizens in that “while the existing world order proves powerless to assume its responsibilities, local individuals and groups can make a real difference. They are able to instill a greater sense of responsibility, a strong sense of community, a readiness to protect others, a spirit of creativity and a deep love for the land. They are also concerned about what they will eventually leave to their children and grandchildren. These values are deeply rooted in indigenous peoples. Because the enforcement of laws is at times inadequate due to corruption, public pressure has to be exerted in order to bring about decisive political action. Society, through non-governmental organizations and intermediate groups, must put pressure on governments to develop more rigorous regulations, procedures and controls. Unless citizens control political power — national, regional and municipal — it will not be possible to control damage to the environment.”

In this era of life-changing megastorms, the time to act is now.

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TAGS: Asia, climate change, Juan, Philippines, weather
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