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Storms, floods to cost PHL $124 billion by 2050

A farmer stands in the middle of a flooded rice field in Alicia, Isabela province, Nov. 23, 2020. —
PHILIPPINE STAR/ MICHAEL VARCAS

By Luisa Maria Jacinta C. Jocson, Reporter

STRONG STORMS, heavy flooding and prolonged droughts may result in around $124 billion in losses to the Philippine economy between 2022 and 2050, according to research firm GHD.

This translates to an average annual gross domestic product (GDP) loss of 0.7% for the Philippines, GHD said in a statement following the release of its report “Aquanomics: The economics of water risk and future resilience.”

The report covered seven countries, including the United States, China and the Philippines, which GHD said will see a combined $5.6 trillion in losses due to storms, floods and drought through 2050.

The United States and China will face cumulative losses of around $3.71 trillion, and $1.1 trillion, respectively by 2050.

The Philippines’ total GDP loss of $124 billion is the fifth-highest among the seven countries, with United Arab Emirates having the smallest GDP loss at $27 billion.

The Philippines is one of the countries most affected by water-related disasters, with an average of 20 typhoons that bring heavy flooding every year.

“Our data show that floods and tropical storms are predicted to amount to over 90% of direct losses (around $89 billion) between 2022 and 2050,” GHD said.

Broken down, storms have the biggest direct impact on the Philippine economy at $47 billion, followed by floods at $42 billion, and droughts at $3 billion.

GHD said the agriculture sector will likely bear the brunt of the water-related disasters, with estimated annual output losses of over 5% by 2030, and 8% by 2050. The average annual output loss for agriculture is expected to be 0.9% or equivalent $23 billion between 2022 and 2050.

In 2020, the agriculture sector generated a gross value added (GVA) of about P1.78 trillion, equivalent to a 10.2% share of the country’s GDP.

The banking and insurance sector is projected to post an average annual output loss of 0.6%, equivalent to $14 billion, between 2022 and 2050. This is followed by manufacturing (0.3% or $39 billion), fast-moving consumer goods and retail (0.2% or $19 billion), and energy and utilities (0.2% or $3 billion).

“The country’s agricultural and retail sectors could be hit hardest, and that these rising threats need to be tackled now with greater focus on water recycling, desalination, and smarter irrigation,” GHD said.

GHD also noted the country faces high levels of water pollution, lack of wastewater treatment and inadequate water supply. Many Filipinos also live on coastal plains which make them vulnerable to storms and floods.

“The Philippine water supply and sanitation master plan calls for a total investment of around P1.1 trillion to achieve universal access to water and sanitation for all Filipinos by 2030,” Rod Naylor, GHD global market leader for water, said in a statement.

CLIMATE EMERGENCYMeanwhile, the Philippine government is being urged to declare a “climate emergency” as rising global temperatures are leading to extreme weather events such as floods, storms, droughts and heatwaves.

“This means that all the institutions of government, national and local, and all civil society and community and people’s organizations must come up with a collective response,” Antonio Gabriel M. La Viña, a lawyer and environmental expert, said in a text message.

Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities associate for policy advocacy Denise M. Fontanilla said that the government should plan for at least the next 18 years.

“Medium-term six-year plans make us blind to the constraints that climate chaos has already imposed. The V20 Group of Finance Ministers, which includes the Philippines, released a report last June stating that the most vulnerable economies in the world have lost 20% of their wealth over the last 20 years due to loss and damages brought by climate change,” she said in an e-mail.

“If there’s anything the pandemic has taught us, it’s that as long as we measure progress only with GDP and productivity, and each month we fail to fully integrate resilience into the country’s macroeconomic fundamentals, our vulnerabilities will worsen, threatening nothing less than the long-term viability of our economy,” she added.

The Climate Reality Project Philippines manager Nazrin Camille D. Castro said the government needs to act fast and immediately deploy climate change adaptation measures.

“Science is unequivocally telling us that the climate crisis is speeding up and moving faster than we are. The recent report by GHD is yet another testament that we need faster and bolder responses to the climate crisis to at least have a chance to fight for the survival and security of the Filipino people,” she said in a Viber message.

Ms. Fontanilla said that prioritizing resilience will spur both economic development and decarbonization in the country.

“Transitioning faster to renewable energy will create more jobs and make power services more affordable and reliable. Inclusive mobility would not only reduce emissions but move more people instead of cars. Moreover, prioritizing resilience in long-term plans will protect communities from loss and damage to be brought by climate change in the near future, helping people survive and thrive amidst multiple crises,” she said.

Ms. Castro urged the Climate Change Commission (CCC) to fast-track the update of the National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAP). She said the climate action plan should prioritize interventions in waterless communities that are more vulnerable to drought and other climate-vulnerable sectors such as indigenous peoples.

“Moreover, it must recognize and put into consideration that the climate crisis is also affecting another important aspect of the economy — public health. Our people are our greatest asset and their mental and physical well-being, which is often affected by the impacts of the climate crisis, must be prioritized over the interests of certain groups,” she added.

At the local level, Ms. Castro said that the CCC and the Department of Interior and Local Government should put in place a mechanism to help local government units ensure the quality of their respective local climate change action plans.

“Local governments should also be capacitated by the National Government in conducting climate and disaster risk assessments and incorporating the results of these assessments into their comprehensive development plans,” she said.

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