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Flooding from Typhoon Ondoy. (Photo from AusAID)

Governments urged to to invest on flood risk reduction

By Tracy Cabrera                                                    

In the last 50 years, the sea level has increased more than 80 centimetres, according to experts, and in ten or twenty years coastal areas around the city of Manila, home to millions of people, will be permanently underwater, according to research by the University of the Philippines.

One of the most densely populated and fastest growing economic centres in the world with an estimated population of around 13 million as recorded by the Philippine Statistical Office in 2015, Auckland University Asia expert Greg Bankroff points out that “as the land around Manila Bay sinks and the sea level rises, the flooding (will) spread not only in the city, but also in the surrounding provinces.”

Before the 1960s the sea level around Manila did not significantly increase, but from then on it rose steadily at a rate five times faster than the rest of the world. By 2050 it is estimated the sea will have risen by another 50 centimetres. In the worst case scenario the sea will penetrate into metropolitan areas near coastal cities like Manila, Pasay, Parañaque, Las Piñas and Navotas, and even into the coastal provinces of Bataan, Pampanga, Bulacan, and Cavite.

If there is a tsunami, the larger water mass and higher sea levels will mean the potential for destruction will be far greater.

Now, after each heavy rainfall, several areas of the capital flood. The traffic grinds to a standstill and people wade through chest-high water.

This is why it is a welcome development that a charity organization is urging governments to provide ‘major’ investment in flood risk reduction to save coastal cities around the world as rising seas and sinking urban areas pose unprecedented threats to millions of homes.

Cities such as Jakarta — which is sinking 25 centimetres (0.8 feet) each year — Bangkok, Houston and Shanghai risk being inundated within decades as a mixture of poor planning, megastorms and higher tides wreaks havoc.

London-based charity Christian Aid studied eight coastal cities around the world that are sinking, potentially compounding the misery that rising sea levels will inflict on inhabitants.

“The impacts of climate change will be seen across the world and as you saw this summer we had a very warm northern hemisphere, very abnormally so,” Christian Aid global climate lead Kat Kramer told AFP.

“Many of the big cities in the developing world are extraordinarily vulnerable to climate change which is why it’s very important that they are given support to adapt and build resilience. Lives are already being lost through extreme weather events,” Kramer stressed.

The call coincides with the release next week of a major United Nations report expected to urge governments to drastically increase their efforts to limit global temperature rises.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will examine the effect of global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels.

But even keeping the world within that temperature range will have a catastrophic impact on coastal cities, with some studies showing a 2C increase could raise global sea levels by up to half a meter.

Christian Aid  highlighted a host of local factors that contribute to sinkage, the majority man-made.

“Something noticeable with the Asian tsunami (2004) of was that areas that had their mangroves intact had greater resilience to that kind of storm surge,” Kramer said.

“There are many ways that natural measures can help if they are left intact,” she added.

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