[PHOTO - Urban risk has become an increasingly important development issue. Effective risk management is often seen as a cost rather than an investment. Major cities in Asia and the Pacific face threats from floods, earthquakes and tropical storms. These fast facts illustrate why we must invest in Urban Disaster Management.]

MANILA, MAY 4, 2012 (PHILSTAR) By Neil Jerome Morales - Time is running out on the fast-growing Asian region to step up and help prevent catastrophic climate change, foreign experts said yesterday.

“Asia is at a crossroads. The region’s rapid economic growth has often come with concerns over environmental degradation,” Asian Development Bank president Haruhiko Kuroda said during the Climate Change and Green Asia seminar of the 45th annual meeting of the ADB’s Board of Governors.

“We are increasingly using resources at the cost of environment; unless we change, the hard-won gains in reducing poverty and improving the quality of life for Asian people could be reversed,” Kuroda said.

In a study presented during the seminar, the ADB Institute (ADBI) urged governments to create a carbon market, phase out pervasive fossil fuel subsidies and establish an Asian free-trade zone for high-impact, low-carbon technologies and services to promote green growth in Asia.

ADBI estimated that Asia and the Pacific will require more than $6-trillion worth of investments in new energy infrastructure by 2030.

Emerging economies like the Philippines should seek international support to come up with more green projects.

“In the Philippines, you have to search very actively for what renewables are available,” Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute of Columbia University, told The STAR in an interview.

“Some can be tapped effectively with national resources, others need international help to be effective at this. We absolutely need to mobilize that international financing,” Sachs said.

For the Philippines, Sachs said renewable resources that can be further tapped include geothermal, solar, wind and hydropower.

To date, the Philippines sources 35 percent of its total power requirements from renewable energy sources.

“The world has promised financing but it has not come up with it yet adequately,” Sachs said, adding that a global fund should be collected to encourage developing countries to choose the greener course.

Fighting disasters caused by climate change


Meanwhile, an official of the United Nations stressed yesterday the need for the Philippines to be more resilient in times of disasters caused by climate change, especially after thousands remained homeless following the onslaught of tropical storm “Sendong” last year.

During the media seminar at the New World Hotel in Makati City yesterday, Margareta Wahlström, a representative of the UN Secretary General of Disaster Risk Reduction (DDR), said the UN team wants to educate the public on how to lessen the impact of disasters in the community.

“(There are) 100,000 people still homeless after Sendong. What we wanted to achieve is to talk to them on how to ensure that the impact next time will not be as serious,” Wahlstrom said in a press briefing that followed the seminar.

Sendong hit northern Mindanao last Dec. 16, leaving more than 1,200 people dead.

The UN team had met with 20 mayors in Mindanao to look into what local governments can do with a legal framework for DRR and Climate Change Adaptation in place. “That’s the context of our discussions,” Wahlstrom said.

“The main focus is really to follow up on what we learned in Mindanao and the engagement of the lawmakers, S&T sector and local governments on DRR,” she said.

The group is expecting to get more inputs as they prepare for a larger meeting with mayors from 31 LGUs in Albay hosted by Gov. Joey Salceda.

Wahlstrom said the Philippines has shown “many encouraging signs” but it still needs a lot of hard work to maintain the attention and focus of authorities on addressing DRR initiatives.

Sen. Loren Legarda also underscored the need for better media coverage and understanding of DRR activities so that the information is well disseminated to the public.

“The issue of DDR has surged and generated awareness and attention (of media and the local government unit). We are now able to understand that national frameworks must work locally,” Legarda said.

Both officials likewise recognized the problem on the strict implementation of the NDRR Act and the Climate Change Act.

Addressing poverty

Meanwhile, ACT Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio urged the ADB yesterday to help reduce debt and assist developing nations instead of multinational corporations.

Tinio noted that ADB’s development plan for the Philippines is comprised mostly of building and improving infrastructure for greater foreign investment and the strengthening of public-private partnership (PPP) program.

“Contrary to what ADB is projecting, it is not in any way helping the poor. For instance, their projects geared towards ‘helping’ the poor through reforms in water and power supply system, health and education only worsened the situation of the Filipino people with debts that do not even serve the peoples’ welfare,” Tinio said in a statement.

He added the Philippines owes a total of P44.31 billion to be paid in 20 years to the ADB.

“We have been calling for the re-channeling of funds to long-term programs such as education, health, salary increase, creation of jobs and the improvement of our own industries,” he explained.

Tinio and Kabataan party-list Rep. Raymond Palatino filed House Bill 1962 seeking to repeal the automatic appropriation for debt service and allotting six percent of the Gross Domestic Product to the public education sector and basic social services.

Obscuring poverty

Delegates attending an international conference in the Philippine capital may not see what they came to discuss: abject poverty.

A makeshift, temporary wall has been erected across a bridge on a road from the airport to downtown Manila that hides a sprawling slum along a garbage-strewn creek.

Presidential spokesman Ricky Carandang defended the wall’s installation, saying Thursday “any country will do a little fixing up before a guest comes.”

He expressed hope that this week’s ADB annual meeting, which includes finance ministers and senior officials from 67 member states, will show the Philippines is open for business.

“We need to show our visitors that Metro Manila is orderly. We owe it to ourselves,” Metropolitan Manila Development Authority chairman Francis Tolentino said.

“I see nothing wrong with beautifying our surroundings. We are not trying to keep the poor out of the picture,” he said.

There was no immediate comment from ADB.

About a third of Manila’s 12 million residents live in slums, and a third of 94 million Filipinos live below the poverty line of $1.25 a day.

Overall, more than half the population in Asia remains poor. – With Christina Mendez, Paolo Romero, Aurea Calica, AP

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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