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Storms worse than “Ondoy” (also named “Ketsana”) and “Pepeng” will hit the Philippines in the coming years, but the country is one of the least prepared nations in Southeast Asia to cope with natural disasters, a United Nations official warned Tuesday.

Jerry Velasquez, senior regional coordinator of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) agency, said the Philippines was even worse than military-ruled Burma (Myanmar) in coping with natural calamities.
Velasquez, a Filipino, spoke at a hearing of the Senate committee on climate change held at Barangay Nangka in Marikina City, one of the areas worst hit by floods triggered by Tropical Storm Ondoy (Ketsana). Painting a grim scenario, the UN official cited studies that projected a massive destruction of Philippine rice crops in a little over a decade owing to climate change, and severe flooding in Metro Manila affecting 2.5 million people by the year 2080.
Deadly trio
“The Philippines is one of the very hot spots for climate change. What happened during Ondoy and Pepeng was not the worst. The worst is still to come,” he added.
An April 2009 UN study found that, “in coping capacity to disasters,” the Philippines ranks seventh among the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), just behind Laos, Malaysia and Burma, Velasquez said.
Velasquez cited a UNISDR global assessment report on disaster risk reduction, which noted that Japan had 22.5 million people exposed to typhoons annually, compared to just 16 million people in the Philippines. “However, the estimated annual death toll from cyclones in the Philippines is almost 17 times greater than that of Japan,” he said.

The study found that the “deadly trio” that worsen natural disasters were poor urban government, unstable rural livelihood, and ecosystem decline. “So it’s not God who is doing it. It’s man who is at fault,” Velasquez said.

Metro Manila vulnerable
Another study, from January 2009, funded by Canada and Sweden, found that among ASEAN countries, “the Philippines is a hot spot for cyclones, landslides, floods and droughts.”

“In fact, according to this study’s ‘multiple climate hazard index,’ the Philippines received a rank of 0.6 to 1.0, the highest among all countries in the ASEAN,” Velasquez said and urged the Philippines to improve its disaster-coping capability.

He said extreme weather events like Ondoy and Pepeng were consistent with the trend that a group of renowned scientists belonging to the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had identified. “According to the IPCC, there is a 90 percent chance that things will get worse in the future,” he added.

ALVIN DIZON, Manila

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Published: 2009-10-29

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