The impacts of typhoons on societies, such as floods and landslides, are mainly due to past and present human activities which have resulted in significant changes in our environment. As our population grew, we needed more land for residential and agricultural areas. We have cleared forests, covered wetlands, channeled rivers, to name a few – virtually converting significant proportions of our ecosystems, and thus losing regulating services such as water uptake or flood control and soil formation.

We are often more oriented towards the provisional services of our ecosystems for obvious reasons, as it provides us with food and water. In addition, we forgot to respect, or underestimated the characteristics of our inherent environment, especially in the context of the Philippines being an island archipelago located in the tropics.

Some background information

The Philippines is an archipelago of approximately 7,641 islands, including 11 of the largest containing 95% of the population. Our total land area is 300,000 square kilometers, which historically consisted mostly of various types of forests and wetlands, and often with rugged terrain and some vibrant plains such as meandering rivers, steep mountains, valleys or watersheds and beautiful coastal areas. In some cases, these rivers dry up for a while. But these can be replenished during the rainy season, especially when typhoons bring extreme rainfall. These meandering rivers also provide nutrients and sediments, which are also important for soil formation and for agriculture.

The isolation of these islands for tens of thousands to millions of years has resulted in a great diversity of endemic species (mainly wild animals and plants). This means that they are only found in these areas, and if they are overexploited or destroyed, they are gone forever. It should be understood that an area with a good assemblage of biodiversity is often more advantageous because they are resilient to impacts, since there will always be other species to take over from those which could have been eliminated or exploited.

And since the Philippines is in the tropics, we only have two distinct seasons: wet and dry. ‘Yan po ang tag-ulan and tag-init. So every year we can experience very wet (flooding) and very dry (drought) months, and sometimes this can be extreme or prolonged. Likewise, the Philippines is in the Pacific Typhoon Belt. On average, about 20 typhoons enter the Philippines Area of ​​Responsibility (PAR), of which about 5 hit land and are often destructive. The destructive impacts of these typhoons are further exacerbated by the contribution of climate change.

Other relevant questions

Shifting baseline is a type of change in how a system, in this case our ecosystems, is measured against the previous benchmark. In the absence of reliable national databases, we often end up with a poorer benchmark for a proper comparison. Then people in general just say that the forests and wetlands are still there.

If people visit a national park like Mount Pulag, they will still be in awe of its natural beauty, so they will end up doing little even if the environment has already been significantly reduced (i.e. converted ). Likewise, those who go “dolphin watching” in the Strait of Tañon or Panglao, Bohol will be amazed by the long-beaked dolphins. However, I do know that 20 years ago there were much more diverse species, such as pilot whales, false killers, and melon-headed whales, which is why it was then called “bird watching.” whales ”.

In addition, there is the Changing Base Syndrome (SBS), which is a situation in which people have lost consciousness of the real state of their natural environment because they cannot perceive the real changes. Indeed, our lifespan is too short compared to the perceptible changes in our ecosystems.

These are some of the reasons why biodiversity loss is a very delicate or nasty environmental problem to solve, especially for a developing country like ours. It is interconnected with other environmental issues such as human population growth, rapid and poorly planned urbanization, resource depletion, energy crisis, pollution and climate change. So, an environmental crisis!

For some time now, we have neglected our environment, which is our natural capital. However, the reality is that we cannot live without it. For example, there is no industrial equivalent capable of producing oxygen and sequestering carbon on a natural scale. Note that past major extinctions prove that the natural environment will survive and thrive even without us.

[OPINION]    Last fight in the Sierra Madre

Urbanization

In addition, we also tend to cluster in urban centers (eg Metro Manila, Metro Cebu, Metro Davao). To date, one in two Filipinos lives in urban areas, and it is projected that 60% of our population will live in cities by 2050. However, poor planning and rapid urbanization amplify our environmental problem. Rapid urbanization often results in significant increases in impermeable surfaces (concrete / cement), so that there is hardly any green space left in our cities. Water then tends to accumulate because of these impermeable surfaces, promoting surface flow to lower areas. Likewise, with the growing number of urban poor and as property prices rise, we now tend to choose to live in vulnerable areas (eg near rivers or in flood plains).

Conclusion

We really need to rethink how and where we live and manage our lands, and accept and respect geohazards and our natural ecosystems. This environmental problem goes beyond the climate crisis. We have to keep an eye on the ball. We need to be proactive, not just reactive most of the time. We must unite our actions, guided by appropriate science-based policies, to be able to mitigate these impacts! The earlier awareness and acceptance of these issues as an environmental crisis will strengthen its eventual consideration as a national security issue! – Rappler.com

Lemnuel V Aragones, PhD is Professor and Director of the Institute of Environmental Sciences and Meteorology at UP Diliman.


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