Recent natural disaster scenarios

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[Part 3 of Ambassador Encomienda’s Marine and Fisheries Resources policy paper]

RECENT natural disaster scenarios impacting on health and livelihood of coastal communities in the Philippines.

9. The following are recent natural disaster scenarios herein recalled to create greater awareness and heightened focus on calamities inflicting heavy damage over wide areas of the country, and happening so close one after another that the recovery phases for each would overlap with another creating a tapestry depicting a nationwide calamity area.

These recent serial disaster events demonstrate that in the archipelago configuration and geographic location of the Philippines, multiple natural disaster impacts can happen virtually at the same time. In any such disaster that hits the country, impacts especially on health and livelihood can be minimized through sustainable ocean governance in an integrated coastal zone management scheme.


Within a year of each other, there was the high intensity Bohol earthquake followed by a supertyphoon that generated a superstorm surge and a freak oil spill in the coastal municipality of Estancia in Iloilo City, the collective effects of which are still being felt more than a year after the disasters.

10. To highlight certain disaster events and economic costs: • The Bohol earthquake. The intensity 7.2 Bohol earthquake had its epicenter in the middle of the island and coastal livelihood did not suffer too much. It is cited here because, again calling attention to the archipelago configuration of the country and its geographical location within the Pacific “ring of fire”, an Aceh-type disaster scale cannot be ruled out if an earthquake (whether volcanic or tectonic) epicenter happens out at sea or even in the outskirts of its maritime jurisdictions; an ever-present likelihood.

• The “Yolanda” supertyphoon. The impact of supertyphoon Yolanda, with multiplied physical destruction due to an accompanying superstorm surge and its impact on fishing communities, would serve as a most tragic back-to-back wake-up call with regard to the current mismanagement and serious neglect of fisheries resources in the country. Beyond the sheer physical damage visited on the various cities and municipalities in central Philippines, a serious adverse impact was in regard to livelihood and health of the population. The extent of the cost to coastal fisheries livelihood can be depicted in the form of gratuitous overreplacement of fishing boats (by the thousands), and the graphic account of hunger and prolonged loss of livelihood in the affected coastal communities that elicited worldwide sympathy and assistance.

• The Guimaras oil spill – This is a small-scale example of an ever-present threat of extensive damage to coastal livelihood from oil spill, from whatever source. The country is an archipelago and toxic and hazardous goods (attention to the Princess of the Stars incident which carried loads of chemicals for fertilizer manufacture) are inevitably transported all over and around the country by sea. The Guimaras incident is a minor incident as far as oil spills happen, but the cost to health and livelihood of the affected communities was serious enough to negatively affect the economic performance of the entire country for the year of the incident.

Another sample of an oil spill incident, albeit a freak one but nevertheless indicative that anything can happen in the archipelago situation of the Philippines, occurred in Estancia, Iloilo City which is not even a maritime incident but one related to supertyphoon Yolanda.

A floating power-barge was lifted off its mooring by the supertyphoon and spilled oil over a large swath of the coast. Beyond localized oil spills as aforestated, the country must be forewarned of what accidents are waiting to happen in the western stretch of the Philippine EEZ posed by present and future offshore oil drilling sites not to mention drilling within archipelagic and internal waters, and sealanes for supertankers and large cargo carriers loaded with toxic and hazardous goods. The Torrey Canyon, Exxon Valdes, Prestige II and the Gulf of Mexico incidents would be case studies where ICZM can introduce precautionary measures and minimize damage to coastal resources and environment.

• Another kind of usually smaller-scale incidents but a recurring serious threat to the health and livelihood of coastal communities is “red tide” and “fish kills” (which are not necessarily from natural causes) wherein contamination can spread far and wide very quickly on account of the archipelago character of the country. Appropriate governance measures would minimize or anticipate, if not totally prevent, such incidents.

11. The above is not a mere narration of events or a catalogue of multiple-impact disasters.

It is a demonstration of the vulnerability of the Philippines, on account of its archipelago configuration and geographic location, to severe natural calamities that are in most if not all cases aggravated by human neglect, and can happen almost simultaneously and cause economic disruption throughout the length and breadth of the archipelago, therefore turning into an extreme national calamity scenario that can and has happened.

There is no doubt that these multiple disaster impacts are a new phenomenon aggravated by climate change. But the Philippines is a small developing country whose pollution emission by-products of development efforts cannot be factored as contributing in any significant degree to climate change. As shown above, nevertheless, the country is at the receiving end of the deleterious results of climate change – all the greater reason why, in addition to disaster preparedness, livelihood resilience through ICZM must be built into national governance and food security.

Other similar calamity scenarios in addition to those mentioned earlier would be severe monsoon weather, prolonged dry spells, earthquakes that could generate tsunamis and coastal infrastructure destruction, and even benign regular weather patterns such as intertropical convergence zones and low pressure areas, El Nino/La Nina phenomenon, which are aggravated by climate change and causing torrential rains, flash floods and heavy sea conditions; weather/climate interactions that are the causes of production deficiencies between land-based and marine-based aspects of agriculture

(para.5). (Continued on Saturday December 27 in the PAFI column space).

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