Launch of Coastal Cities at Risk (CCaR) Project

March 1, 2012

Allow me to thank the Manila Observatory and the Ateneo de Manila University for inviting me to join you in the launch of the Coastal Cities at Risk Project.
An estimated 2.8 billion people, or more than 40% of the total global population, are living in coastal cities.
If we consider locations that are less than 9 meters above sea level, so called “low elevation coastal zones,” then roughly one in every 10 person in the world lives in these zones. The 10 countries with the most people in these areas are China, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan, Egypt, United States, Thailand, and the Philippines.
More importantly, two-thirds of world’s largest cities — cities with more than five million people — are at least partially in these low areas. That is important, because people are increasingly moving to cities.
For an archipelagic country like the Philippines, the fact that 832 municipalities and 25 cities are classified as coastal areas should result to a vibrant economy, especially with the abundance of marine resources, and the huge potential for tourism.
Conversely, notwithstanding these benefits, coastal cities increasingly face the threats of climate change – sea level rise and weather in extremes.
A recent study jointly undertaken by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the World Bank, focused on Bangkok, Thailand, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and Manila, Philippines determined that costs from major flooding events on infrastructure and the economy could run into the billions of dollars, with urban poor populations likely to be the hardest hit.
The report states that in all three cities, there is likely to be an increase in the number of persons exposed to flooding by 2050, the impact on the poor and vulnerable will be substantial, and that costs of damage can range from 2 to 6 percent of their GDP. The study also found that land subsidence is a major problem and can account for a greater share of the damage cost from flooding.
Almost three months ago, the coastal cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan on the island of Mindanao suffered massive casualties and devastation as a result of the onslaught of tropical storm Sendong, an extreme weather event as scientifically affirmed by the Manila Observatory.
The deadly brew of situations that led to the Sendong disaster remind us that it is our choices — environmental degradation and bad urban development, that worsens the effects of disasters, in addition to the threats of climate change.
Lessons from past studies have told us that better management of urban environment and infrastructure will help manage potential climate-related impacts. This means that sound urban environmental management is also good for climate adaptation.
In addition, these studies have also told us that climate-related risks should be considered as an integral part of city and regional planning. While improved urban environmental management is important, cities need to make a proactive effort to consider climate related risks as an integral part of urban planning and to do so now.
Finally these studies also tell us that targeted, city-specific solutions combining infrastructure investments, zoning, and ecosystem-based strategies are required. Because of the unique characteristics of each city, city-specific and innovative approaches to urban adaptation are necessary.
For cities like Metro Manila, where the main threats of extreme rainfall, sea level rise, and more powerful typhoons, the ADB-JICA-WB study predicts that in a worst-case scenario, a major flood could cause damage totaling almost a quarter of the metropolitan area’s GDP or 560 billion pesos.
What disaster threats loom against our other coastal cities? What are the impending losses and costs of these future disasters? If we know these scenarios, what can be done to reduce their impacts?
It is in this light that I commend the Manila Observatory and the Ateneo de Manila University for this undertaking—the Coastal Cities at Risk Project: Building Adaptive Capacity for Managing Climate Change in Coastal Megacities—the main goal of which is to gather all information relevant to the level of vulnerability to disasters of coastal cities and the manner by which these communities can effectively reduce the risks.
Fundamentally, the research will give Metro Manila leaders and development planners the guidance they need to prepare for the worst hazards. It will aid local government officials in integrating disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in local development planning.
The time to act is now— especially in cities where years of hard-earned development gains and so many lives are at risk.
I take note that many cities in the country have committed to make their cities resilient.
I have personally witnessed local officials of Region VII, Metro Manila, and the province of Rizal when they signed up in a UNISDR campaign in 2011, which encourages them to:
• allocate funds for disaster preparedness;
• update hazard maps and integrate risk information in development planning;
• increase investments in improving flood control infrastructure;
• ensure the safety of public establishments such as schools and hospitals;
• enforce building codes and build houses in safer ground;
• conduct education and information dissemination campaign;
• preserve and protect our ecosystems; and
• establish early warning systems.
The magnitude of the work ahead of us seems daunting, but together, we can make our communities resilient against disasters and climate risks.
Let me stress that the Commission on Climate Change should continuously support scientific research collaboration and innovation in order to design evidence-based decision support systems.
The scientific and research community should intensify collaboration on risk science and innovation and help communities prepare for localized impact assessments.
The academe is encouraged to share practical knowledge to their communities and teach our youth the urgency and importance of climate change action. Non-government organizations should serve as a channel between the academic and scientific institutions, and communities, in helping address the impact of climate change on the most vulnerable populations.
Now is the time to face bravely the many challenges ahead. Let this project launch be our starting point for more meaningful and successful action at the local level. Our people expect and have a right to nothing less than our wholehearted commitment towards this.
Thank you and good day.