Living with the changing climate, poor people confront the reality


Philippine EnviroNews, Philippines

In the Philippines, poor people are on the frontline of climate change – they face rising seas, consistent warming trends, frequent flooding and intense extreme weather events such as typhoons and droughts. With the changing climate, their problems are intensifying as vulnerable communities often forced to live in temporary shelters or in areas prone to flooding and landslides, some even losing their livelihood.

Felix Condino who lives in a quiet village of Joroan in Tiwi, Albay, knows little about issues such as greenhouse gas emissions or climate change. But the 53-year-old Agta farmer knows what he sees, and for years he has seen his root crops and vegetable harvests decline due to the erratic weather.

Condino, also a tribal chieftain, said farmers like him are literally on their knees praying to their gods for good harvest and to allow them to produce enough food for their communities.

“ We need to adapt to the changing climate in order to survive,” he said in his dialect. “ We still believe in our government and in the power of our nature and our gods so we could surpass these challenges.”

Like Condino, farmers in the rice terraces of Ifugao interpret the rapid deterioration of their centuries- old upland rice farms as a curse. Tribal folk perform rituals to appease their gods. Through chants and the offering of chickens, farmers implore the gods to help them revive the glory of good harvest.

“We have a very strong connection with our ancestors and to our lands and we still believe that our gods will watch over our crops and give us bounty harvest,” said 50-year-old rice farmer Rogel Saleng.

Local fisherman from Pangasinan, Joseph Lalata who lives near the Lingayen Gulf, lamented that their fish catch are dwindling and that floods occasionally destroy their houses.

fishing village2

“ We cannot understand why our fish catch is becoming less and less, and we noticed in the past few years that the ocean is rising,” he said in his dialect. “ Now, the water is beneath our feet and we should find a way to move to higher grounds again.

Millions of struggling people in the Philippines like Condino, Saleng and Lalata, face unprecedented hardship. They say that while they “feel the heat” of the changing climate life is becoming almost unbearable.

The new normal

Most scientists agree that severe, large-scale weather most countries experience now is the “new normal” as climate change accelerates.

“ Regardless of where we live, climate change is affecting us, and we will need to try to adapt to the new normal conditions,” warned Rosa Perez, a climate scientist at the Manila Observatory. “ We are seeing changes in temperature, precipitation and water levels and we need to be prepared to the impacts of these changes.”

Perez added that although climate change is a global issue, the impacts are very localized and there is a need to focus on vulnerability and adaptation assessment.

Antonio La Vina, Dean at the Ateneo School of Government and a climate change expert, said the best option for the Philippines is to adapt to the “new normal” extreme weather conditions.

“ The most important thing is that we understand the impacts of climate change, the impacts of it in the future, understanding the economics of it and looking at who are the sectors vulnerable. Then we prepare,” La Vina said in a recent interview.

According to the July 3 report of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), it showed that nearly 94% of reporting countries had their warmest decade in 2001-2010 and no country reported a nationwide average decadal temperature anomaly cooler than the long term average.

Some 44% of countries in the survey reported nationwide hottest temperature records in 2001-2010, compared to 24% in 1991-2000.  Coldest daily minimum temperature absolute records showed an opposite pattern:  In 1961-1970, nearly 32 % of the countries reported nationwide lowest minimum temperature values. The percentage decreased to 11% in 2001-2010.

The WMO report also stated that the 2001-2010 decade was the second wettest since 1901. Globally, 2010 was the wettest year since the start of instrumental records.

Between 2001 and 2010, there were 511 tropical cyclone related disaster events which resulted in a total of nearly 170,000 persons reported killed, over 250 million people reported affected and estimated economic damages of US$ 380 billion.

According to the 2011 Global Assessment Report, the average population exposed to flooding every year increased by 114% globally between 1970 and 2010, a period in which the world’s population increased by 87% from 3.7 billion to 6.9 billion. The number of people exposed to severe storms almost tripled in cyclone-prone areas, increasing by 192%, in the same period.


Dealing with disaster, not something new

In Albay, dealing with climate change and disaster is not something new. In fact, they have mastered their adaptation and disaster risk preparedness.

“ We always aim for a zero-casualty during natural calamities. And I would also like other provinces or even Metro Manila to focus on disaster management especially during rainy season,” said Albay Governor Joey Salceda.

Albay is the first province to proclaim climate change adaptation policy as a governing policy. The province has initiated various innovative approaches to tackling disaster risk reduction and adaptation, as well as implemented the “zero casualty program” during calamities. It has also mainstream climate change adaptation in the education sector.

Salceda stressed that lives can be saved and the destruction of property minimized when natural disasters strike if governments invest adequate resources in disaster risk reduction measures.

“ We have to learn now from our past experiences in managing destructive weather-related events. Let us treat disaster risk reduction as an investment, a way of life for the people that needs different sectors or institutions to act upon. The trade secret here is social preparation,” he added.

Albay Gov Salceda

When typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng in 2009 pummeled the country with heavy downfall that caused massive flooding and landslides, Salceda knew that a horrible disaster is waiting to happen in the country. And he was right. The typhoons left hundreds of people dead, thousands of families were homeless and an estimated P5.6 billion properties were damaged.

Salceda stressed that the culture of disaster risk reduction and preparedness must be institutionalized in all local governments.


Addressing climate change, disaster mitigation locally

The country needs to incorporate climate change action plans into the national and local development process to ensure that national climate change priorities are realized, said Climate Change Commission Secretary Mary Ann Lucille Sering.

“ The effects of climate change is being felt already, and we need to help each other to survive. We need to create and implement policies, programs and projects that are geared towards climate change adaptation,” Sering said.

In 2009, Congress passed the Climate Change Act creating the CCC to develop policies and coordinate government programs on climate change. The CCC in turn developed the National Climate Change Action Plan that serves as a roadmap for all climate change programs in the Philippines.

Earlier this month, the World Bank released the report, “Getting a Grip on Climate Change in the Philippines”, pointing out that deepening reforms to fully integrate the climate change agenda in the government’s planning and budgeting will strengthen the country’s resilience against the impacts of the changing climate.

“ Climate action can contribute to inclusive growth and poverty reduction,” said Christophe Crepin, sector leader of the social, environmental and rural development unit in the East Asia and Pacific region of the World Bank.

Citing the report, Crepin stressed that local governments are action-oriented, but sources of funding are fragmented and their available amounts are limited. He mentioned, however, that climate appropriations in the province of Albay and Makati City for instance are directed toward the primary concerns of the local governments.

“ There is a need for all sectors for planning, monitoring, and evaluating climate programs to improve their effectiveness, and increase the efficiency of resource use and provide support for higher levels of financing,” Crepin said. “ There is a strong foundation here in the Philippines and there is room for improvement.”


For now, millions of poor people in the Philippines like Condino, Saleng and Lalata, are doing everything to hang onto their lives. One day soon, they and an untold number of others may no longer have a choice than to adapt to the changing climate.