Thursday, January 5, 2012

Cities be warned, prepare

Local government officials, citizens’ groups and NGOs in four Philippine cities should thank the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)-Philippines and BPI Foundation for undertaking research and publishing “Business Risk Assessment and the Management of Climate Change Impact.” It is subtitled “Vulnerability Assessment of Four Philippine Cities.”
The four cities are Baguio, Cebu, Davao and Iloilo. The words “risk” and “vulnerability” should turn the elected local officials of these cities into boy scouts and girl scouts (if they are not already) and make them swear by the motto “Be Prepared.” They should hit the ground running as early as now. But first, they should have the information.
Lazy local executives elsewhere who have seen the aftermath of Tropical Storm “Sendong” should be pressured to do some physical and mental aerobics by the riverbanks, lakeshores and mountain tops. Reading the WWF-BPI study is also a good start. The reading-challenged could practice some humility and seek explanations from the experts who are more than willing to share what they know, help them gather data and assess their vulnerability.

The WWF-BPI study begins with a national overview. It then takes on “an in-depth, city-specific view” and presents the methodology that was used, the scope of the assessment, analyses, scenario-building, adaptive capacity and integration and assessment. The study takes note of each city’s “socio-economic sensitivity”—its population, housing, source of income, educational facilities, businesses, water supply and even crime solution efficiency. It attempts “to look 30 years into the future” and encourages “out-of-the-box” thinking.

Here are excerpts from the WWF-BPI assessments per city. (You can ask for a soft copy of the study by sending an e-mail to

At barely 57 sq. km, Baguio City is the smallest and most densely populated city covered by this study. In the scoring process, it also emerged as the most vulnerable to climate change impacts. All historical records confirm that Baguio City has the highest rainfall in the country, and climate trends indicate that this is likely to get worse. From a climate point of view, the management of urbanization trends and watersheds as well as Baguio’s population growth will play roles in defining the continued viability of this city’s economy.

Baguio does not have a commercial air link. Its only economic umbilical cord is confined to land access. Surprisingly, its current top development drivers are real estate development, agricultural production and educational enrolment, all of which depend greatly on new land, appropriate infrastructure and reliable land access via well-maintained mountain roads. Currently none of these appear to measure up to Baguio’s future needs. Level of vulnerability: 7.43; climatic/environmental exposure: 9.17 (scale of 1 to 10—with 10 being the most vulnerable)

Cebu City’s opportunity lies in a long-term plan and development model that will disperse and diffuse climate risk. One scenario flagged “united political leadership” as a key element, along with “effective, efficient, responsible and transparent governance.” Cebu will require new investments in “climate smart” infrastructure and technology. It will also require a re-thinking of what it will take to build human capital, improve the well-being of Cebu’s work force, and keep that at the cutting edge. If Cebu City looks “beyond its fences” and forges new development directions leading to global integration in this climate-defined future, it may seize this opportunity to strengthen its economic supply chains within the region, and maintain its reputation as a center for cost-competitiveness and reliability as a processor or supplier of goods and services. Level of vulnerability: 6.65; climatic/environmental exposure: 7.79

It is likely that Davao City will have to deal with climate impacts such as sea level rise, increased sea surface temperatures, ocean acidification and inter-annual variability of rainfall. It is also likely that Davao will emerge as a site of refuge of an increased number of migrants. There are indications that this trend has already begun. High population growth and in-migration underscore that strategic development decisions must be made now. More than that, a multi-stakeholder formula for continuity must be set in place if this city is to sustain and re-engineer its agricultural strengths, and avoid the disorganized congestion that characterizes many other cities, emerging as a new center for livability and competitiveness in a climate-defined world. Level of vulnerability: 5.68; climatic/environmental exposure: 6.63

Iloilo City has the second highest population density of the four cities in this study. Sitting on reclaimed marshland, it also remains highly flood-prone. In combination, these two factors constitute a serious risk. Next to Baguio, Iloilo emerged as the second most vulnerable city in this study.

If this city is to achieve sustainability and maintain its competitiveness in a climate-defined future, it is clear that a sustained effort to better manage land use, infrastructure, land/sea access as well as flooding is put in place through a mix of natural and engineered initiatives. There is no doubt that well-managed drainage systems, as well as flood-free highways, will remain key elements in the drive toward sustainable economic growth. Level of vulnerability: 6.69; climatic/environmental exposure: 8.18
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Safeguard human health and the environment. No to toxic fumes and injurious explosions. Support a total firecrackers ban.

May 2012 be year of hope and fulfillment for this nation. May there be stunning surprises at every turn.

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