Haribon Foundation on ‘Yolanda’ aftermath
Super Typhoon Yolanda lashed parts of Visayas and Southern Luzon in the Philippines weeks ago, and is one of the world’s strongest storms ever in recorded history with an average strength of 315 kilometers per hour (kph).
It left utter devastation along its path leaving thousands homeless, frantic and lifeless.
Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) Weather Center storm signal No. 4 over several areas, a rare occurrence when cyclones strike the Philippines. Yolanda is also Category 5 in the Hurricane Scale, capable of causing “catastrophic damage.”
Typhoon Yolanda also hard hit Haribon sites in Central Panay Mountain Ranges. As reported by the Antique Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC), San Jose, Antique has a total of 13 deaths. A total of 91 persons were injured and 16 missing while 12,136 families, and 54,279 persons lost their homes, properties and livelihood.
Seven of the nine hardest-hit municipalities in the province are all Haribon sites: Bugasong, Laua-an, Barbaza, Tibao, Culasi, Sebaste and Pandan; the other municipalities are Libertad and Caluya. According to the PDRRMC, a total of 337 barangays in these towns were also affected.
Damage to infrastructures in the region reached P150 million while agriculture damages reached P110 million on rice, corn and cassava, high value crops, livestock and fisheries.
Wrath of nature
Dr. Gerry Bagtasa of the University of the Philippines Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology said there was nothing to stop Yolanda into intensifying. “It never hit a mountainous area to break its wind speed,” said Bagtasa.
According to the author of “Preserving the Mountains,” Zenaida Delica, “The Philippines, lying along a typhoon belt is visited by an average of 19 to 20 cyclones a year.”
“Most mountains situated near the major population centers have been denuded by logging and uncontrolled subdivision development programs initiated more than fifty years ago. Recently, leveling average-sized mountains and strip mining have combined to destroy the mountains themselves,” Delica added.
It has always been our call to protect and conserve our forests from these threats. Time and again, Haribon Foundation has reminded Filipinos about the role of forests in mitigating the impacts of climate change and the risks of disasters.
This case actually happened in some portions of Central Panay Mountains Important Biodiversity Area (IBA) particularly in the remaining forest areas of the municipalities of Sebaste in Antique province and Ibajay in the province of Aklan. There is a clear line of resiliency between the old growth forest and reforestation areas established in the 1970s.
From the highway, it can be observed and noted that old growth forests remained blue-green in hue, as if undaunted by the onslaught of Super Typhoon Yolanda. Old reforestation sites, most likely planted with exotic species such as mahogany, gmelina, among others, have turned the forest landscape into brown.
Forest vegetation also plays an important role in water holding and water absorption. Decrease in forest vegetation puts many communities at risk of different hydro-meteorological hazards because of our country’s very close location to the Pacific Ocean.
In Barbaza town in the province of Antique, residents affected by the typhoon experienced extreme changes in temperature because of less forest cover and exposure to sea surface temperature due to their proximity to Sulu sea.
According to Haribon’s head of research department Dr. Margarita Lavides, “It is expected that when a significant amount of areas are devoid of vegetation, the temperature will rise in the local area because of the lack of transpiration [release of water from plant surfaces]to air. It’s connected to the hydro-meteorological processes and its relationship with vegetation.”
The government of the Philippines should rethink its forest conservation strategy based on the impact of Yolanda particularly on forest restoration. The objective of reforestation is to rehabilitate degraded and denuded forestlands; however, the use of exotic species caused further damage because it does little in protecting us from typhoons, with its shallow roots and even destroys the integrity of the natural forests and biodiversity by making conditions unattractive for local wildlife to flourish.
Climate change and human factor
Just as disasters are not entirely attributed to natural causes, we must also recognize that the extreme weather events that we continue to experience are also driven by human factors.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007 Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) has already stated that among other observed climatic changes, human influences has “more likely than not increased risk of heat waves, area affected by drought since the 1970s and frequency of heavy precipitation events,” (IPCC, 2007).
It is important that the human-influenced and human-induced causes deforestation, overexploitation of both climate change and disasters, be seriously addressed by society and the government. It is also imperative that climate change mitigation and adaptation measures and disaster risk reduction work including biodiversity conservation, at all levels.
We believe and support the call for the correct formulation, appropriate legislation at both local and national levels, and proper enforcement of comprehensive land use plans for every city and municipality in the country.
Beyond the call and the move to restore mangrove areas, forest restoration using indigenous forest trees species should also be included in local development plans such as Forest Land-use Plans, the Disaster Risk Reduction Management Plans, among others, of communities to mitigate the effects of climate change.
But Filipinos also have the spirit of bayanihan, a long-held tradition of mutual cooperation among members of a community. We have in our culture the elements that we can harness to prevent and minimize the impacts of disasters. If we make use of this tradition to extend to protecting and planting more forests, then we have a bigger chance of keeping ourselves safe from the impacts of disasters.