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Bracing for La Niña

Manila - Residents walk past a pile of upturned cars left behind by receding flood waters after tropical storm Ketsana ravaged the Philippines last year. Philippine officials say government is bracing for more brutal storms this year carrying heavy rains
(Jason Gutierrez/IRIN)

The Philippines is bracing for severe flooding over the next few months as a result of the La Niña weather effect, which is expected to whip up heavy storms. Some specialists are saying the country is not adequately prepared.

With infrastructure and emergency safety mechanisms still reeling from the effects of Tropical Storm Ketsana and super typhoon Parma last year, the country is now racing against time to prevent large-scale destruction, said Heherson Alvarez, chairman of the country's Climate Change Commission.

"We anticipate an escalation of more serious flooding because the country has not been able to adequately repair damage from last year," Alvarez told IRIN, adding: "On a scale of one to 10, I give the country only four in terms of the level of preparedness."

The country needed specifically to speed up the acquisition of weather monitoring systems to be installed at key points across the archipelago, which lies in the Pacific's typhoon belt and sees an average of about 20 typhoons a year, he said.

La Niña, an ocean-atmosphere phenomenon that is the counterpart of El Niño, is characterized by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, enhancing rainfall over the western half of the ocean region encompassing Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and northern Australia.

Unseasonal heavy rain has been pounding Manila and other parts of Luzon Island nearly every day since the start of the August, causing minor inconvenience but providing a portent of things to come.

"Our defence systems must depend on early warning signals, which means the installation of a machine that can read the onslaught, the volume of the rain, the velocity of the winds," Alvarez said. "But the machines that we have now are only in certain key points of the archipelago. We are not really prepared yet."

Poor preparedness

International experts and donors have long lamented the Philippines apparent lack of coordination and preparedness during annual disasters that usually leads to fatal consequences.

Last year Ketsana led to the nation's worst flooding in 40 years, destroying large parts of the city and exposing the lack of community planning. Nearly 700,000 people were forced into shelters, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Later on, Parma struck, hitting northern areas. The two storms killed over 1,000 people and affected about 10 million people. The consequences are still being felt today.

In August, President Benigno Aquino sacked the head of the country's weather bureau for wrongly forecasting the movement of Typhoon Conson. The error resulted in the deaths of 111 people, mostly in areas southeast of the capital.

According to Maplecroft's Natural Disasters Risk Index 2010 of 229 countries surveyed, the Philippines (population nearly 100 million), ranked ninth in terms of vulnerability to natural disasters.


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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