Typhoon season in the Philippines offers an alarming window into the future of our planet and the communities that inhabit it.
The typhoon arrived in Manila around the same time I did. In the Philippines, they called it Egay. International audiences knew the storm as Doksuri—“eagle” in Korean. (Typhoons passing through what is known as the Philippine “area of responsibility” receive a Filipino name as well as an international one.) Much like an eagle, the rain came down suddenly and vehemently and seemed not to stop for days. I tried to prepare for upcoming interviews but instead found myself staring out the window, listening to the battering of the rain and the whistling of the wind between buildings.
“You have a front seat to climate change while you’re here,” a Filipino friend told me when I wondered whether this was normal for the rainy season.
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The science of climate change in the Philippines is complex. Gerry Bagtasa, a professor at the Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology at the University of the Philippines Diliman and the founder of the weather forecasting website weather-manila.com, explains that the total number of typhoons affecting the Western Pacific, including the Philippines, does not appear to have changed in recent decades and will likely decrease in the future. Yet, the intensity of typhoons has increased due to climate change. Regions that have historically been typhoon-free, like Mindanao in the southern Philippines, have also begun experiencing typhoons in recent years.
The consequences of these changes are immense. Though the worst of its destruction bypassed Metro Manila, where some 12% of the country’s population lives, Typhoon Egay nonetheless caused flooding on major roads in the capital. Egay also caused severe flooding outside Manila, resulting in dozens of deaths, tens of thousands of homes destroyed, and nearly $100 million in damage.
Not long after Egay left the Philippines, I visited the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to learn about the government’s attempts to increase climate resilience. I spoke to three officials who stressed the need for the country to build infrastructure that can anticipate and guard against natural disasters, not just respond to them. When I emerged from the building after an hour and a half, I was shocked to see that the sun was out and the sky was clear.
But the feeling of renewal was fleeting, and Egay was not yet finished with humanity. Eighteen hundred miles north of Manila, the storm had forced large-scale evacuations in and around Beijing, some areas of which received more than two feet of rain in two days. In the surrounding countryside, where the Chinese government opened floodgates and inundated villages to save the capital from ruin, the destruction was far worse. As if on cue, the clouds closed ranks above Manila, one people standing with another through their hardship.