Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - It's going to get much worse. Because of climate change, floods will be higher and storms stronger and more frequent. This has been developing slowly over decades, so we didn't notice it. But it is here.
Because of global warming, the ice caps which store much of the earth's water in ice sheets are melting. The melted water is raising the levels of the oceans. That means the sea is creeping up on dry land. Whole low-lying islets will be submerged. Communities there and along other coastal areas will be swamped. Rivers will overflow their banks and flood adjoining areas, like what happened in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities. Storms will be stronger and more frequent.
The Philippines is especially vulnerable, being an archipelago in the Pacific, the birthplace of typhoons. Worse, it lies in the path of these typhoons. With sea levels rising, the Philippines will cease to be an archipelago of 7,100 islands as many low-lying islets disappear under the sea. What happened to Sitio Bayug, a sandbar in the Mandulog River in Iligan which was wiped out by rampaging floodwaters, is just a small example.
Furthermore, the land area will decrease as the sea claims the seashores. Many of those beautiful beaches will disappear.
That's not the only danger. Our mountains are bald, no thanks to the loggers who massacred the forests. With no tree roots to hold the soil together on the mountainsides, landslides will become more frequent, burying the communities below. With no soil to sop the excess rainwater, water will rush down the mountains and flood the valleys.
That is what happened to Cagayan de Oro and Iligan. The logging families in Mindanao, who became filthy rich from the massacred forests, are responsible for the deaths of almost a thousand people who perished in the floods. Their blood is on their hands.
That is what happened to Marikina, Cainta, and other neighboring towns and cities during storm "Ondoy."
During heavy rains, silt from the mountainsides are carried down streams and creeks to the rivers and deposited there. With the added mud, the rivers become shallower and can hold less water. They therefore overflow their banks much faster and higher.
Squatters like to build their shanties along waterways because there is space above the water and it is easy to get rid of their wastes: just throw them out the window and they are gone. But they are living dangerously. When rampaging floods swell the river, their homes will be washed away along with them. Many of those who died in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan were living beside the river. Even in Metro Manila, squatters living along waterways are the first to be washed away during heavy floods.
These people, who don't know any better, should be relocated to safer ground. Even people living on islets should be relocated because they are very vulnerable not only to storm surges but also to the inexorable rise in sea levels.
This is already being done in Australia and other South Sea countries. Fishing villages in low-lying islets are being evacuated and transferred to bigger, higher and safer islands. We should also do this. If we had done this earlier, the hundreds who died on Bayug island would still be alive today.
But mark my words, after their dead are buried, families who were washed away from their homes beside the rivers will go back and rebuild their shanties there. They never learn, like those who suffered the same fate in Metro Manila never learned. The banks of waterways that were swept away during previous storms and floods are again teeming with squatter shanties.
The national government does not have the manpower to police all these waterways. It is up to the local government units to do that. They are the officials on site and they can see what is happening there. But most of our officials are too lazy to do anything until tragedy strikes.