Wettest weather: Tacloban had highest rainfall in 4-city climate study

Posted at 01/14/2014 6:52 PM | Updated as of 01/14/2014 8:20 PM
A damaged fishing boat is seen in a devastated area of Magallanes town, Tacloban city, central Philippines December 24, 2013. Super typhoon Yolanda reduced almost everything in its path to rubble, including Tacloban, when it swept ashore in the central Philippines on November 8. Reuters/Romeo Ranoco

MANILA – Before super typhoon “Yolanda” devastated the city, Tacloban in Leyte province was already experiencing increasing rainfall over a 14-year period and had the highest amount of rains among four cities included in a recent study.

The study conducted by World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) Foundation examined various climate vulnerabilities in several key cities. It examined the history of storms in Tacloban and calculated average annual rainfall in the city from the years 1998 to 2011 at 2,494 millimeters (mm), which is higher than the average annual rainfall of 2,400 mm in the country.

The study also showed that average annual rainfall in Tacloban was rising "a dramatic 257% from 1,853 mm in 1998 to 4,678 mm in 2011."

"This is the highest rainfall, as well as the highest increase in precipitation, for all four cities assessed in Phase 3 of this project," the study said.

The other three cities included in the study are Angeles, Pampanga (2,075 mm); Naga, Bicol (2,306 mm); and Batangas City, Batangas (1,834 mm).

The study, "Business Risk Assessment and the Management of Climate Change Impacts", revealed that Tacloban has been hit by an average of 2.3 typhoons per year in the past 50 years.

"Over the last five years, we have seen these cyclones getting stronger. It appears that Tacloban weather is likely to get wetter," it said. (See list of storms in Tacloban)

Tacloban was also cited in the study as the only city that had high susceptibility to both floods and landslides, according to existing geo-hazard maps.

The WWF-BPI study examines 12 Philippine cities and the possible effects of extreme climate events including storms, floods and droughts. It looks into different factors such as a city’s socio-economic sensitivity to climate events including population, land area, housing, number of schools and vehicles, air passenger traffic, tourist arrivals, foreign trade and even energy consumption.

It also assesses a city’s adaptive capacity in case of a major climate event such as a destructive typhoon.

Phase 1 of the study covered possible climate change impacts in the cities of Baguio, Cebu, Davao and Iloilo in 2011; Phase 2 covered the cities of Cagayan de Oro, Dagupan, and Zamboanga in 2012.

Phase 3 of the study, which covered Tacloban, Angeles, Naga and Batangas, was conducted this year even before super typhoon “Yolanda” hit Samar, Leyte and other areas in central Philippines.

A fourth phase will include Puerto Princesa in Palawan; Santiago City in Isabela; General Santos City in South Cotabato; and Butuan City in Agusan del Norte.

Superstorm scenario

Ironically, one projected scenario by local stakeholders during a meeting in September posited the possible effects of a super typhoon in Tacloban in the year 2021.

The scenario, which is included in the WWF-BPI study annex, said a superstorm in Tacloban and Leyte would bring the city’s economy to virtual collapse with many skilled workers forced to migrate to other cities.

More than 6,000 people have died due to Yolanda with another 1,785 people still missing in typhoon-hit areas. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said the super typhoon has left more than P18 billion in damage to infrastructure and another P18 billion in damage to agriculture.

WWF Philippines CEO Jose Maria Lorenzo Tan said any plan to revive the business climate in Tacloban after "Yolanda" must be systemic and wholistic. "It cannot be done overnight or all at once. Even the government cannot do it alone," he said.

He also pointed out that other towns in Samar and Leyte were also devastated by the typhoon.

"The impact of typhoons Pablo, Pepeng, Sendong and Yolanda is felt multi-province, multi-city and multi-town. It happens every year. What is happening in Tacloban is a symbol of what every city should be doing. There has to be preparation. Just because you are high up does not mean you are safe," he said.

'A climate sandwich'

During the study’s launch, Tan said the impacts of climate disasters are site-specific and that any plan to address climate change in the Philippines should be adapted per locale.

He said the Philippines has become “ground zero” for climate disasters” since it is now the third most vulnerable country in the world to climate change.

"No one could have predicted ferocity, the violence of Yolanda. Our study does not predict that," he said.

According to the study, Tacloban faces a "spectrum of challenges" with some portions of the city located in low-lying wetlands that are prone to flooding. It said other upland barangays in Tacloban are prone to landslides.

The study said Tacloban's location along the northeastern coastline of Leyte province, facing the Pacific Ocean, makes it more prone to typhoons and floods.

"[Tacloban] is within the 'jaws' of what has been described as a climate sandwich. Like many old Philippine towns that have expanded along no logical pattern, zoning and appropriate land-use need to be addressed," it said.

Tan said that before Yolanda hit, Tacloban’s population had risen 62% from 136,891 in 1990 to 221,174 in 2010. However, he also noted that tourist arrivals in the city have crashed and building permits were also down even before the typhoon.

The study noted that it is imperative for urban centers such as Tacloban to create socio-economic buffers to deal with the forced migratory fallout arising from future extreme weather events.

It noted that critical service centers such as hospitals and evacuation safe zones must be moved to high ground and that cities should invest in early warning systems.

Tan said one bright spot in the Yolanda disaster is the extent of humanitarian aid given by foreign groups and governments, the likes of which have not been seen in the country in recent history.

He said the disaster has also galvanized families to help their relatives affected by the typhoon.

“That is a feather in our cap. We will rebuild. Private sector is family, there are disconnects but we will make up for it. Saluhan tayo dito sa Pilipinas,” he said.

Angeles, Batangas, Naga

Meanwhile, the study also assessed climate vulnerabilities in the cities of Batangas, Naga and Angeles.

It said the westerly orientation of Batangas City shields it from the Pacific Ocean’s storms. It also noted that Batangas City had the highest population growth rate among the Phase 3 cities, with a growth rate of 65% from 1990 to 2010.

Like Angeles, Batangas City is now a transport hub due to its rising number of ship-borne passengers and cargo.

On the other hand, Angeles City is situated inland, far from the sea. Described as a key player in the effort to draw in new investment into Region 3, the city’s main climate exposure appears to be the likelihood of disrupted access due to increased flooding along the North Luzon Expressway.

Tan said both Batangas and Angeles are alternative gateways to Manila, offering air and sea routes to neighboring destinations. “But seaports and airports will be viable only if they provide safe and consistent movement of passenger and cargo. To maximize viability and minimize vulnerability, stakeholders must keep these lifelines in tip-top shape,” he said.

Meanwhile, the study described Naga City as a “pathfinder” after playing a defining role in establishing paths that opened many windows to Bicol. It noted that tourist arrivals to the city remain high as many Filipinos go on religious pilgrimage to see the Virgin of Penafrancia.

The study noted that Naga remains vulnerable to flooding as it is flanked by the cloud-covered Mount Isarog as well as the Bicol river basin.

“To keep the city humming, effective drainage systems and alternative road routes should be created while ensuring that the national highway that connects it with other regions experiences zero downtime,” it said.