Print Version    Email to Friend
Climate change hurts poor Filipinos the most

The sea is engulfing a community of 40 households in the northern Philippines where people rely on whatever the ocean can offer for a living.
People have already started losing their homes, their school and their chapel to the sea. The water is taking over land that is home to the poorest of the poor in the region.
Rolando Yunson, a 70-year-old resident of Bisagu, a village near the town of Aparri in Cagayan province, said the sea “is leaving nothing but electricity posts.”
He said, “People were forced to leave and look for other land to resettle.” Bisagu is located along an estuary where the Cagayan River pours into the Philippine Sea.
But even before the recent rise in sea levels, Yunson said the village had experienced storm surges and huge waves. “Gradually, the village became uninhabitable. Typhoons became more destructive,” the old fisherman said. 
Global sea levels have been rising over the past century and the rate has increased in recent decades.
In 2014, global sea levels were 6.6 centimetres above the 1993 average—the highest annual average in satellite radar measurements, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States.
The two major causes of rising sea levels are thermal expansion caused by warming of the oceans and the increased melting of land-based ice, such as glaciers and ice sheets.
Higher sea levels mean that deadly and destructive storm surges push farther inland than they once did, which also means more frequent nuisance flooding.
Father Manuel Vicente Catral of the Archdiocese of Tuguegarao said what has happened to Bisagu is also going on in other coastal villages in the province.
“What’s alarming is that these changes are happening at a fast pace. We do not have the luxury of time to combat its impact,” the priest said.
In Capacuan, a village in the northern town of Rizal, farmer, Daniel Ranojo, has been trying to figure out how to make it through the dry season.
He said the community was still recovering from the impact of last year’s Category 5, Typhoon Mangkhut super storm which struck the northern Philippines, leaving $29.5 billion worth of damage to agriculture and infrastructure. 
Cagayan province, where Ranojo has his farm, was one of the hardest hit areas.
He had to apply for a loan to buy seeds and fertilisers, hoping that the next harvest would be enough to cover the losses.  
In January, the El Niño, weather phenomenon hit the province, resulting in a drought. “We have nothing now,” Ranojo said.
In April, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said the dry weather caused more than $744 million worth of damage to agriculture.
The government agency revealed that a total of 164,672 farmers had been affected by the drought, with 26 local governments declaring a “state of calamity.”
Sylwyn Sheen Alba, coordinator of the faith-based group, ACT Philippines Forum, said climate change hurts poor Filipino communities the most.
“And the damage is extreme,” she added. “People on the peripheries, who are also victims of social inequalities, cannot recover from successive destructive disasters because of a lack of access to resources.”
The 2018 World Risk Index noted that the Philippines is third among the 171 most vulnerable countries to natural disasters and climate change.
Alba blamed “social and economic inequalities, environmental degradation, poor governance and worsening human rights conditions” for the impact of climate change on the poor.
Jing Rey Henderson of Caritas Philippines, said “caring for the environment is also a move to protect the poor from the harsh impacts of climate change.”
Church leaders have repeatedly called for “ecological conversion … to live in harmony with nature rather than dominate it” following the release of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’: On care for our common home.
Henderson said that climate change and its effects “are real and unavoidable, but we can do something to mitigate its impact on communities.”
She observed, “A rich family can get out of the scorching heat of the sun by turning on an air-conditioning unit but a poor family in an off-grid village will only rely on trees.” 
Father Catral said poor communities, especially farming villages, will be the first to be affected by the impact of climate change.
However, the priest said farmland with no crops means markets without produce.
“We must understand that everything on the planet is intertwined,” the priest said. 
“If a town loses a village because of rising sea levels, it means a country has lost a fishing village,” he added. UCAN