Flooding is a risk and must be dealt with
WE are at a climate crossroads. The world has already warmed 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Above 1.5 degrees, as science has said, we risk larger and more destructive climate disasters that will disproportionately affect the poor, vulnerable and marginalized, especially in developing countries. .
The Philippines will not be spared. The increasing severity of typhoons is a stark reminder that climate change, which causes extreme weather events, is a clear and current threat. The country has been subjected time and time again to a cycle of destruction and reconstruction and it is time for this to end. The lack of community capacity to prepare for worst-case scenarios needs to be addressed urgently.
Most of the impacts of climate change and disasters are preventable. Floods, for example, have affordable primary prevention mechanisms such as dams, levees and drainage systems. Poor drainage and garbage disposal problems compounded the effects of the typhoons.
Areas around waterways have become densely populated, affecting water flow and preventing maintenance. In addition, trash consisting primarily of plastic and other solid waste continually clogs waterways and entrances to pumping stations.
Social challenges that compound climate and disaster risk include overcrowding and urban congestion, where huge numbers of people live in informal settlements that are particularly vulnerable to flooding. Many communities live in inadequate housing near waterways.
Although heavy and excessive rainfall is part of the new normal due to climate change, we do not need to live with the vulnerabilities that disrupt our social and economic activities. We don’t need to have flooded streets, heavy traffic, stranded commuters, washed away homes, collapsed bridges, displaced families and devastated farmlands for every heavy rain or typhoon.
We have two essential laws to foster climate change adaptation and mitigation and disaster resilience. These are Republic Act (RA) 9729 or the “Climate Change Act” and RA 10121 or the “Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act”. Yet integration with local development planning remains a challenge.
During heavy rains, water levels in small and medium river basins can rise rapidly and often do not allow local authorities enough time to issue warnings. Insufficient preparedness for such recurring events, in addition to limited coping strategies, poses major challenges to local government units (LGUs) and their communities.
Our country, like many other climate-vulnerable countries, faces an enormous task in reducing climate change and disaster risk, especially at the community level. Local chief executives should take the lead in implementing flood mitigation measures in the face of worsening extreme weather events.
Our government must adopt a more people-centered approach to decision-making by developing policies that emphasize sustainable development, approving an inclusive budget that benefits the most vulnerable people, and promoting nature-based solutions. to ensure that all communities are safe from flooding.
The government is challenged to move forward in a balanced and systematic way, so that we not only adapt, but emerge even stronger and more resilient, to deliver what is right and just to our people who have long deserved a safer and better life.
Our government needs to practice better disaster risk reduction and local preparedness rather than focusing on responding when a disaster has already happened. We need to be more proactive and efficient in reducing risk.
Many LGUs have already started investing in flood control infrastructure such as river levees, pump stations, flood walls, drainage systems, canals and flood retention areas. However, this must be done in tandem with non-structural flood mitigation measures.
Early warning systems should be put in place for each barangay (village), including the establishment of a volunteer flood team to be mobilized during such emergencies, and integrating flood mitigation tools in LGU land use plans.
Our LGUs also experience a lack of risk maps to begin with and a lack of capacity to undertake risk assessment, even more so to conduct cost-benefit analysis on proposed interventions and investments that contribute to their vulnerability. To address this problem, LGUs need to assess the volume of flood waters, the frequency of floods and the extent of damage suffered in the past so that their land use plans and even their local change action plans climate are responsive.
We should note that the number of casualties caused by the recent typhoons could be due to a lack of risk awareness and proper action on the part of the residents, as they have never experienced floods of such magnitude in the past. Thus, information dissemination and community preparedness for disasters is a crucial part of the effort, as an educated population will be prepared and know what to do in the event of a disaster.
Recent disasters remind us to heed nature’s warnings and seriously consider the strict implementation of effective flood mitigation measures in communities. This should be a lesson in planning better and taking more concrete action to respond to climate change.
We must continue to recognize that the climate crisis remains. It is incumbent upon all of us to act together now and reform the way we live and view our environment so that we can all survive and thrive in the midst of climate change.
The author is executive director of the Young Environmental Forum and non-resident fellow of the Stratbase ADR Institute. He completed his Climate Change and Development course at the University of East Anglia and an Executive Program in Sustainability Leadership at Yale University. You can email him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @WiggyFederigan.