Floods a wake-up call for climate change

The massive floods that inundated the Philippine capital were a chilling reminder of the need to seriously address climate change, experts said, warning that the lives of millions were at stake.

More rain fell on Manila and surrounding regions in nine hours on Saturday than the amount Hurricane Katrina dumped on New Orleans in 2005.

The ferocity of the storm shocked even seasoned experts in this Southeast Asian country where an average 20 typhoons hit every year, but they said it continued a recent pattern of unusually bad weather.

Civil defense chief Anthony Golez and the country's chief weather forecaster, Prisco Nilo, said they were puzzled by "strange" changes in the behavior of the typhoons that struck the country over the past two years.

In April, which is supposed to be a summer month for the Philippines, three typhoons hit the country, with one of the storms triggering a landslide that killed 250 people south of the capital, Golez said.

The typhoons also deviated from their traditional paths during the month of June, traversing the northern and central parts of the main Luzon island for the first time.

"When you try to scientifically observe the data... we will find this year and last year as very strange years, and we can only presuppose that this is due to climate change," Golez said.

At least 240 people have been confirmed killed in Saturday's flooding that overwhelmed large parts of the sprawling metropolis of 12 million people, including gated middle-class enclaves which had never been flooded in the past.

"We can't just blame this on the rain. We know this is the worst deluge in 40 years. We know there is climate change happening, there is no debate about that," Greenpeace campaigner Mark Dia said on local television.

"This is just a glimpse of what will happen. This is not even a super typhoon. We need to be prepared. This is just a taste of things to come. We need to have more preparations and we need to factor in climate change."

UN climate chief Yvo de Boer said in Bangkok on Monday Philippine floods highlighted the need for the world to agree on a global warming pact by a December deadline during talks in Copenhagen.
A global accord would ensure that "the frequency and severity of those kinds of extreme weather events decreases as a result of ambitious climate change policy," de Boer said.

Negotiators are still trying to thrash out a draft text for the Copenhagen meeting, with major disagreements on the two key issues of cutting emissions of greenhouse gases and meeting the associated costs.

Meanwhile, Jose Bersales, humanitarian and emergency affairs director at charity World Vision, warned that the Philippine storm was likely a taste of more doom for the world's poorest, who often are the least prepared for storms.

"This has to be a wake-up call for the world as it prepares for the climate change talks in Copenhagen later this year," Bersales said.

World Vision quoted recent forecasts by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that tropical cyclones would become more intense, have stronger peak wind speeds and heavier precipitation.

This phenomenon would have a disproportionate impact on the Philippines, it said.

With 43 percent of the population, or 36 million people, living on less than two dollars a day and with only one doctor for every 1,700 people, the impact of major disasters on the Philippines will become more devastating, it said.

And with an archipelagic coastline of 36,289 kilometers (22,499 miles) the country is vulnerable to rising sea levels, another consequence of climate change, the charity added.

"Millions in the Philippines must be helped to prepare for worsening wind storm disasters," the charity said.

Research by British charity Oxfam showed that the number of people affected by climate crises worldwide was projected to rise 54 percent to 375 million over the next six years.


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