Albay province gets serious about climate change

With Mt Mayon Volcano looming in the background, a worker clears rock and debris from one on the dozens of streams descending from the volcano to avoid potential floods.
(Brennon Jones/IRIN)

"Ask the old people here in Albay province and they will tell you, they've never experienced this magnitude of storms and typhoons before," Nong Rongasa, executive director of the Centre for Initiatives and Research on Climate Adaptation of Albay province, told IRIN. "Every week there is a climate change-related event - high tides and heavy rains."

As further evidence, Rongasa cited a combination of heavy rains, high tides and sea surge that recently flooded Lagazpi City, the provincial capital. "It's just never happened before," he said.

Albay in the Bicol region of the eastern Philppines was among the hardest hit in the 2006 typhoons, with deadly mudslides that descended the slopes of Mt Mayon volcano, which looms high over Legazpi City, burying homes and farmland, killing more than 100 people and displacing 10,000. Countrywide, according to the National Disaster Coordinating Council, 1,158 people lost their lives, 3,235 were injured, 891 missing and 300,000 displaced.

It was a wake-up call for Albay authorities. "Climate change is here and it is a threat to our social and economic development, making it difficult to alleviate poverty and to have sustainable development," said Rongasa. "Because of this," he said, "we immediately set about improving disaster preparedness and putting in place a formal plan to deal with climate change."

Joey Sarte Salceda, governor of Albay, told IRIN: "We are working on disaster-proof, climate-proof adaptation. Albay province is the first to launch a climate change initiative. It's called 'Albay in Action for Climate Change'."


Photo: Brennon Jones/IRIN
Jeepneys, the popular and colorful Philippine mode of transport, move through deep currents of a newly created stream created by recent flash flooding in Lagazpi.

Disaster preparedness

According to Rongasa, the plan includes strengthening and improving evacuation sites, introducing climate change curricula to schools and training 720 village officials in climate change adaptation and disaster preparedness. It includes a food-for-work scheme to clear out debris and blockages from the seven major rivers and 225 creeks and tributaries that flow from the volcano to forestall flooding, said Rongasa. The plan also calls for measures to protect coastal communities, including a major mangrove restoration project. Most of the funding is to come from provincial and national coffers.

Salceda said 15 rain gauges had recently been installed on the slopes of Mt Mayon - an early warning system against impending deadly floods. The plan is to install more sophisticated early warning weather stations, but they are costly, at US$5,000-$6,000 per station, he said.

According to Abundio Nuñez Jr, operations officer of the Albay Provincial Public Safety and Management Office, plans are under way to enhance overall communication capabilities in times of disasters. "We need an effective communication system because the cell phones get jammed," he said; the office is seeking about $100,000 in funding.


Photo: Brennon Jones/IRIN
A mother and her children, IDPs at Anislag Resettlement Camp. They were forced to leave their home and farmland in Pandang when mudslides enveloped them.

Pre-emptive evacuations

Salceda has also introduced the concept of "pre-emptive evacuations". In November 2007 and again in February 2008, he ordered hundreds of thousands of residents to leave their homes for the safety of schools, public buildings and other evacuation sites before the arrival of large storms. Some residents grumbled at the better-safe-than-sorry strategy, but according to most officials and residents alike, it came off with few glitches.

Salceda clearly sees Albay province as a leader in climate change adaptation and mitigation in the Philippines and is working with the UN Development Programme, World Bank, Asian Development Bank and other agencies to adopt best practices. These include developing contingency plans and implementing the "cluster approach" whereby representatives of government and NGOs that oversee key sectors, such as water and sanitation, health, agriculture and education, coordinate their activities.

Albay hosted the first national and regional conference last October on climate adaptation. Attended by some 1,200 representatives of government, the commercial sector, scientists, international agencies and NGOs, the conference adopted a declaration calling in part for the development of national, regional and local climate adaptation plans, increased funding for climate change research and adaptation, and increased media focus on climate adaptation strategies.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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