Extreme weather in Southeast Asia heralds the worst to come

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ohN 16 DECEMBER Typhoon Rai made landfall in Siargao, in the southeastern Philippines. With sustained winds of 195 km / h and gusts of up to 240 km / h, the storm erupted west and slightly north, with the eye touching eight other lands in the Philippine archipelago. , where it is known as Typhoon Odette, before sweeping through the South China Sea, turning barely as violently as when it first made landfall. It was the most violent storm to hit the Philippines in 2021.

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The gusts of wind and storm surges they brought to the shore, along with the torrential rains that turned streams into torrents, inundated the lowlands and triggered landslides, combined to dig a path of death and destruction through the southern and western Philippines. Half a million houses were damaged: buildings of fragile construction were overturned; more robust structures have had their roofs torn off. Trees have been uprooted, crops razed and livestock killed. Fishing boats have been broken. Bridges were washed away and roads covered with debris. Water, electricity and telephone lines were cut.

On December 29, Typhoon Rai devastated the lives of 4.2 million people. The storm had prompted more than 720,000 people to flee their homes and 560,000 were still displaced. Almost 400 people have been killed and more than 1,100 injured. 83 others are still missing. Official estimates put the cost of damage to infrastructure at 16.7 billion pesos (about $ 330 million) and to agriculture at 5.3 billion pesos.

Meanwhile, Malaysia is experiencing its worst flooding in decades. Torrential rains since December 16 have caused rivers to overflow, leaving vast swathes submerged, homes damaged and people stranded without food, medical care or, ironically, no water. The floods left nearly 70,000 people displaced in 430 evacuation centers in eight states and killed at least 48 people as of December 28. An Environment Ministry official described the downpour as something that “only happens once every hundred years.”

The two events are not directly related. The flooding in Malaysia was caused by a mixture of tropical depression, seasonal monsoon and Typhoon Rai, Azizan Abu Samah, meteorologist at Universiti Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, told ChannelNewsAsia, a website and news channel. regional.

But the Philippine typhoons and the Malaysian floods are linked in that the two are likely to become more intense. As climate change causes temperatures to rise, the warming atmosphere will hold in more moisture, leading to more rain and more frequent flooding. Typhoons, which derive their strength from energy stored as heat in the oceans below them, will also intensify: most of the heat acquired by the planet due to climate change is stored in the oceans. The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a UNback-to-back body, found that the proportion of storms in categories 3, 4 and 5 was likely to have increased over the past 40 years. The trend is expected to worsen as the earth warms.

Yet the response in both countries has depressingly focused more on scoring political points than on preparing for future disasters. In Malaysia, an opposition MP claimed that a motion to discuss the flooding in the lower house was rejected. The speaker denied ever having received such a motion in the first place.

In the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, the president, visited Siargao and warned locals not to trust politicians who came to have their photos taken amidst destruction and suffering. (An election to choose his successor is slated for May.) He jokingly urged displaced islanders to squat private property and salvage timber from storm-blown coconut palms to build new homes. His speech elicited cheers and laughter from his audience.

Yet, in all likelihood, the Filipinos living along the Typhoon Rai path will soon set out to do exactly what Mr. Duterte suggested, and what many in the south have done before: dig through the debris for materials to build new homes strong enough to last only until the next typhoon brings them down.

This article appeared in the Asia section of the print edition under the title “Prayin ‘will’t do you no good”

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