Monday, July 30, 2007

Drought as nature’s revenge

Manila Times: Suddenly, climate change is no longer a lofty scientific concept. It has become a reality and we are suffering from its effects.

Last week the government alerted the public to the possibility of a drought parching Luzon unless long-overdue rains started falling within the next few days. The concern was raised after unscheduled power outages blacked out large sections of Metro Manila and neighboring provinces. The reason: a number of hydroelectric plants had stopped running because there was not enough water to drive their turbines. The dams supplying water to the plants were drying up, not having been replenished because of below-average rainfall. The authorities had to admit that the afternoon showers offering some relief to the metropolis were induced by cloud seeding, and that power and electricity may have to be rationed.

The consequences of a severe water shortage go beyond rotating blackouts. An extended dry spell could play havoc on Luzon’s rice and corn harvest and drive up grain prices. Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap was quick to explain that grain prices would remain stable for the rest of the year. However, the secretary added rather ominously, a prolonged dry season could impact on next year’s crop.

What looms even darker on the horizon is the fact that man, not nature, is largely responsible for the unusual and potentially damaging weather gripping the country. For years environmental scientists had warned that pollution and forest denudation were raising temperatures all over the world. Unless drastic steps were taken soon, Earth would get warmer, triggering such catastrophic events as crop failures and even the extinction of many animal and plant species.

Global warming has since been recognized as a menace that requires international action. In the Philippines, it took longer to sink in because its effects had not been readily apparent or dramatic. The farmers attributed the lateness of the rains or the viciousness of supertyphoons to the fickleness of nature. The smog that enveloped the city was nothing more than a minor inconvenience for commuters. The laundrywoman saw nothing wrong with leaving the tap running while the water overflowed from washbasin.

It’s time we recognize that we are responsible for what is happening to our climate. It’s time we do something about the weather, not just talk about it.

…A senior climate scientist at the International Rice Research Institute in Los Baños said it would be harder for the Philippines to cope with climate change because it has different climatic zones that need a specific response strategy. “Regions of the Philippines differ in terms of land use practices and landscape characteristics, so they will be affected to varying degrees by climate change,” the scientist said.

The government must look at the aberrant weather as a consequence of global warming and not just a seasonal phenomenon, and adjust its response accordingly.

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