Philippines: La Niña and the catastrophe brought by environmental destruction

Hereby we share an article published in the last issue of Ang Bayan from Philippines.

As the Philippines enters the rainy season this June, the climate is transitioning from El Niño to La Niña. In May, Pagasa placed the probability that La Niña will hit in July-September at 69%. La Niña is characterized by more frequent and heavier rains, which is bound to result in more severe flooding, landslides and typhoons.

El Niño and La Niña are two phases of the climate phenomenon called El Niño Southern Oscillation or ENSO. ENSO is characterized by irregular changes in wind and temperature in the Pacific Ocean. This results from global warming driven by fossil fuel use for energy, transportation and industrial production.

The Philippines has experienced at least five La Niña cycles since the 1980s. Intervals between each cycle are shorter, while bringing greater damage to the country. During the 1988-1989 La Niña, damage to crops reached ₱900 million. The country experienced two consecutive La Niñas 10 years apart—1998-2001 and 2010-2011. La Niña persisted slightly until early 2012 intensifying the typhoons that hit the country, especially in Mindanao.

More than 1,000 were reported dead, 900 went missing and hundreds of thousands were left homeless when Typhoon Pablo (international name: Bopha) hit the Davao region in December 2012. More than 1,200 were killed, and as many went missing in Region 10, particularly in Cagayan de Oro when Typhoon Sendong (Washi) hit in December 2011. Less than five years later, La Niña (2016-2017) occurred again. This La Niña intensified Typhoon Niña (Nock-Ten, 2016) that hit the Bicol region.

The Philippines was last hit by La Niña in 2020-2022. In 2020 alone, 23 typhoons hit the Philippines, higher than the usual 20 typhoons per year. Typhoons Rolly (Goni, 2020) and Ulysses (Vamco, 2020) hit the Visayas and Northern Luzon. These two typhoons caused damages estimated at over ₱40 billion (or ₱20 billion each). La Niña ended without almost no gap before another ENSO cycle re-entered in July 2023.

Environmental destruction and ENSO

In typhoons Pablo and Sendong, deforestation was a clear factor in the deadly floods, when water surged from the mountains to the lower coastal areas. But more than that, Philippine deforestation has caused a greater impact on the Pacific ENSO cycle.

In a 2023 study, scientists confirmed the large role of deforestation in the so-called Maritime Continent (MC) in the frequency and intensity of ENSO in recent decades. The MC consists of Indonesia, New Guinea, the Malay Peninsula, the Philippines and their surrounding ocean. They said deforestation in these countries increased the probability of the formation of more complex and unpredictable El Niños by 11.7%; and La Niña by 14.6%.

These deforestations are driven primarily by land-use conversion, commercial logging, timber plantations, and large-scale and destructive mining.

Suffering the most from La Niña are national minorities and farmers who lose their homes and livelihoods when typhoons and floods strike. They rightfully demand indemnification from mining and plantation companies for the plunder and environmental destruction that consequently brought devastation to their communities.

An example of this is the demand of the residents of Masara, Davao de Oro (formerly Compostela Valley) that Apex Mining Corporation repair the town roads and bridges damaged after typhoon Pablo. In Cagayan Valley, farmers demand debt payment postponements, or even total debt relief, of their production loans for them to have a chance to recover their losses in the next crop cycle. At the same time, they demand the reactionary state to allocate compensation funds for the homes and livelihoods that were damaged.

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