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Hazards and risks in island ecosystems

I could hardly imagine the devastation wrought by super typhoon Yolanda in various parts of the country, particularly in the Eastern Visayas region.

Media reports, and video footages and photos posted in social networking sites in the Internet are very depressing. The images showed the mighty force of nature in creating destruction and suffering. In less than 24 hours last Friday, August 8, typhoon “Yolanda” with international codename Haiyan, made an unprecedented six landfalls in different islands of the Philippines.

Strong and gusty winds, heavy rains, and very high storm surges characterize the typhoon Friday. It was considered as one of the worst storms ever recorded on Earth. The death count is now in thousands, and relief, rescue and recovery operations are still very far from over.

Tacloban City in Leyte seems to be badly and tremendously affected beyond imagination, with about 10,000 persons feared dead.

This recent disaster was not new since the Philippines has been encountering numerous calamities in recent years. Residents of Bohol and Cebu islands are still recovering from the onslaught of last month’s earthquake of magnitude 7.2 when the tragedy last Friday occurred. Would it be the last?

It is quite unfortunate and horrifying to say, but experts already made warning that the incidence of damaging natural hazards and risks is the new normal of our times. The main contributing factor is the deterioration of the natural coping mechanisms of our ecosystems in absorbing and withstanding the changing environment of our planet.

Our geographical location puts us in one of the most hazardous portions of the Earth. The Philippines is situated in an area where tropical cyclones are most active, and this is in the western rim of the Pacific Ocean. The feature of the country, that is composed of numerous island ecosystems, makes many of our areas open to coast and vulnerable to wind, rain, tsunami and storm surges.

In addition, the landmass of the Philippines is basically mountainous in nature, with steep slopes that are highly towering in lowlands and coastal areas. This condition further aggravates the risk of flooding and landslides. Our country also lies in the so-called Ring of Fire, which makes us even more susceptible to frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters has consistently ranked the Philippines in the top five most disaster-hit countries of the world.

While disaster preparedness is a very important thing that we should all embrace, it is equally relevant to ensure the planning and implementing actual measures in mitigating the likely impacts of natural hazards and risks.

The government has already initiated hazard mapping, and those sites identified as high risks should be free from settlement. Usually, these are coastal and landslide-prone areas. Most of our coastal zones have been wiped out with mangrove forests that are supposedly our natural barriers from the impacts of strong winds, tsunami, rising seawater and even storm surges.

Similarly, sites considered as susceptible to landslides should be rehabilitated. The Philippines is so notorious when it comes to deforestation. Most of our timberlands are now heavily denuded and a large track of which has already been converted into other land uses. Some structures are also creating barriers in the natural flow of our waterways and even bodies of waters, like lakes, have been subjected to reclamation.

Basically, the alteration and modification of our natural environment has only added the hazards we are facing in our lives.*

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