Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Philippines disaster may have been worsened by climate change, deforestation

Jeremy Hance in Mongabay: As the Philippines begins to bury more than a 1,000 disaster victims in mass graves, Philippine President Benigno Aquino has ordered an investigation into last weekend's flash flood and landslide, including looking at the role of illegal logging. Officials have pointed to both climate change and vast deforestation as likely exacerbating the disaster.

"We have no desire to engage in finger-pointing or to assign blame at a time like this. Yet, we have an obligation to find out exactly what has happened," Aquino said, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

On Friday, Typhoon Sendong brought 12 hours of continuous rain to Mindanao Island; reports say rivers flooded and villagers were crushed by logs or drowned. The Philippines has declared a national disaster with the storm affecting 338,000 people in 13 provinces. The storm is now the deadliest of 2011.

President Aquino stated that he was concerned a logging ban was violated, worsening the disaster. In February, following flooding that killed around 40 people, Aquino banned logging across the Philippines arguing that deforestation had made much of the country dangerously prone to landslide and flooding. However, a priest who worked in the area, Sean McDonagh, told The Universe Catholic Weekly that decades of deforestation was to blame for the scale of the disaster. Much of the region was converted from rainforest into pineapple plantations.

"The deforestation was literally criminal," he said. "If the rainforest in the area had been left intact, even 12 hours of continuous rain would not cause this devastation. The rainforest canopy would stop the torrential rain from hitting the ground directly. Trees would also absorb the water. While you might have local floods, you would not have the disaster which happened the other night."...

Photo of Tropical Storm Washi (also known as Sendong) from NASA's Terra satellite with the outline of Mindanao. From NASA

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