Inquirer highlights the impact of climate change on urban poor

CHEERS TO the Philippine Daily Inquirer for its in-depth report on the impact of current threats on the lives of the urban poor. The special report draws out with multiple angles and disturbing detail the impact of climate change on their communities. But much of the media are so focused on the pandemic that they have ignored other threats against the poorest of the poor. The PDI account looks at systemic government neglect, calling attention to yet another failure of local officials to protect communities against flooding and rising sea levels. 

Published in two parts online and three in print, the article by reporter Jhesset Enano draws from her visits to two coastal sites in Metro Manila: Estero de Vitas in Tondo and near the mouth of Batasan and Tanza rivers in Navotas. She talked to Jocel Madrano, Teresita Galo, Ariel Castro, and others whose families have been living on the edge of the Manila Bay and the estuaries flowing into it.

Their homes are built against sea walls or on stilts and concrete embankments as communities have made makeshift adjustments to survive more floods and higher tides. But “In another 20 years, the areas from Navotas City to Las Piñas City in Metro Manila, which stretch for about 28 kilometers, will be below the annual average flood level,” the report read, citing the projections of Climate Central, a nonprofit group of scientists and journalists. 

Enano further describes the cycle of poverty in the lives of the poor: “after a disaster, those with no economic means just rebuild on site, re-exposing themselves to the same risks, just like Madrano’s husband, who patches up the family home with scraps of wood and tin sheets left behind by every strong storm that rips their shanty.” Most families refuse to relocate because they have no assured access to livelihood, transportation, water and electricity anywhere else. 

The report cited disaster risk experts who criticized seawalls, coastal dikes, and concrete layering of roads and structures as solutions.  All these stem from “poor urban planning and land use policies that increase overall vulnerability to climate change.” 

Enano also discovered how some cities have not incorporated and recognized rising sea levels as a threat that must be dealt with in the Local Climate Change Action Plans (LCCAPs) the LGUs are required to prepare. She requested an interview with Manila’s disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) officer but was turned down, because “LCCAP and DRRM plans have not been approved by the city council.” 

The report concludes with quotes from sources calling for a more holistic approach that could address the needs of vulnerable settlements as well as mitigate, if not reverse, the perils of global warming.

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COVID-19 may be the Philippines’ paramount crisis at present, but the media need to call attention to other urgent and long-standing issues which cannot be ignored. In our archipelago, our communities have to contend with the seas as part of their shared vulnerability. Government cannot afford to set it aside, or waste its energies on mindless projects such as the Dolomite Beach folly. 

There is a lot of work to be done. Republic Act No. 10121 or the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 (DRRM Act) mandates the national management system to shift from disaster relief and response to disaster reduction and management. Government agencies and public officials at all levels must lead stakeholders and partners in producing a plan for concerted and coordinated short-term and long-term solutions. 

Journalists must share the burden of responsibility by keeping the public informed. The climate change discourse must be reduced to its essential points, identifying solutions that stakeholders can understand. Better informed communities can demand of their public officials’ responses that make sense.  

It is time for journalists to work together across news organizations and platforms, build on the reports of others to reach a public consensus about the crisis of rising seas. 

In a country of over seven thousand islands, the response to climate change must begin in earnest now. 

In the age of the Internet and social media, verified news helps to clarify the issues and establish the facts about something like climate change which communities do not experience in the same degree. But shared information can lead to a critical mass, of citizens who can exert pressure on government that it cannot ignore. 

As we approach 2022, the news agenda can highlight climate change as a major factor in evaluating the fitness of candidates for public office.