When tropical depression Agaton swept in to the Philippines from the Pacific on Jan. 13, the rain gauge in Jabonga’s new weather station could barely cope: more than 635mm fell in five days, and 1,194mm over the course of that month.
One in three people in the 24,000-strong community on the island of Mindanao had their homes flooded, and 2,800 had to be evacuated after three whole villages were completely submerged. Newly planted rice and vegetable crops were ruined, and the community is only just beginning to recover.
Torrential rain and flash floods are not unusual in Jabonga, which lies in the lee of a mountain range, but this was January and Agaton dropped three times as much rain as normal across a wide area, killing 37 people in floods and mudslides.
No one had ever seen such heavy rain before, even when Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, hit the south of Mindanao in November last year, devastating a large area and causing up to US$36 billion of damage.
MORE RAIN, FLOODING
Agaton was the last and most serious of a procession of unusually heavy and oddly timed rains, the village farmers said when they met last week to assess their situation and compare notes.
“It rains more heavily now and it leads to more and deeper floods,” Areneta Lampitao said. “The rain comes at different times and our farms get damaged more. You used to be able to predict the weather, but not now. Now it floods whenever there is low pressure.”
Agaton and Yolanda are a taste of what is to come, said Alicia Ilaga, the government’s head of climate change at the Philippines’ Department of Agriculture.
“We are totally convinced that climate change is happening. Temperatures are rising everywhere. The IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] suggests there will be even more aggressive Yolandas and our farming will be devastated unless we adapt,” she said.
Her analysis echoes that of the world’s climate scientists, who on Monday published the fifth assessment report on the impacts of global warming.
Drawn from thousands of studies and models conducted over the past seven years, it warns of a 3oC to 4oC rise in temperatures over the next 80 years, crop yields falling up to 25 percent, water shortages, floods, droughts and worldwide food insecurity.
The changes will take place over a century, says the study, with crop yields possibly dropping 2 percent a decade even as demand from a rapidly growing global population increases by 14 percent a decade. Crops that are highly sensitive to temperature changes, such as rice, wheat and maize, may fare worst.
It will be possible to grow new crops in northern latitudes, but farming in the tropics and sub-tropics, in places such as the Philippines, will be hit hardest, with the poorest people suffering the most because they must spend so much more of their income on food.
Regionally, the IPCC said, the vast Asian rice crop, which feeds nearly half the world’s population, will suffer badly as dry seasons become longer, nights get hotter, and rainfall patterns become increasingly erratic.
Winter wheat yields could increase in some areas because of warmer night-time temperatures and higher rainfall, but sea-level rise threatens coastal and deltaic rice production.
In addition, fishing in tropical and subtropical zones will be devastated as ocean temperatures increase and corals are damaged.