Super Typhoon Noru devastates climate-vulnerable farmers in the Philippines

PALAWAN, Philippines – The skies were still clear as the farmer went to take a last look at his crops.

A massive tropical cyclone was hours away from making landfall in the northern Philippines, and Nueva Ecija province, known as the country’s “rice bowl,” was at the center of its path. Officials have warned that more than 1 million hectares (2.47 million acres) of farmland could be razed just before harvest season, devastating poor rural communities that have increasingly borne the brunt of the natural disasters in the country.

Looking at the paddy field he had been working in for months, Felix Pangibitan picked up his phone and clicked record.

“I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, in the next few days,” he told the camera, standing in front of the pitch. “I took a video now, because I don’t know if these will still be up tomorrow.”

“What God decides is what happens, right? Pangibitan added with a sigh. “But it’s a waste. It’s so hard to be a farmer.

Shared on Facebook, the Pangibitan video struck a chord with Filipinos as they prepared for Super Typhoon Noru on Sunday, attracting millions of views on social media and local TV channels. He tapped into the feelings of anxiety and helplessness that had spread across the country as Noru, also known locally as Karding, rapidly evolved from a tropical storm to a Category 5 typhoon.

At the same time, observers said, the Nueva Ecija farmer seemed to grasp what – and who – was most at stake in these typhoons, which have hit the Philippines with increasing frequency and severity in recent years.

The country’s agricultural sector has the highest poverty rate of any sector since 2006, according to government figures, with at least 2.4 million people who depend on the sector living below the poverty line. From 2000 to 2019, the industry suffered 63% of damage from extreme weather events, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.

Typhoon Rai, also known as Super Typhoon Odette, caused $550 million in damage when it hit the Philippines last December. More than a third of that damage was in agriculture, with some 420,000 hectares (about 1,037,840 acres) of farmland wiped out in days, according to the aid organization Oxfam. Nearly 390,000 farmers and fishermen were “left with nothing”, said Lot Felizco, country director of Oxfam Philippines.

In 2018, Typhoon Ompong caused more than $220 million in agricultural damage, including a fifth in Nueva Ecija, which produces around 10% of the country’s rice each year.

Philippines on high alert as ‘explosive’ Super Typhoon Noru makes landfall

Noru moved through central Luzon, where Manila is located, with sustained winds of up to 150 mph from Sunday evening into early Monday. It left dozens of neighborhoods under water and cut power lines in at least 12 municipalities, officials said at a press briefing, but it did not cause the widespread loss of life that the we initially feared. Five people died during rescue operations in Bulacan province, officials said.

The worst is probably over, experts say, as Noru leaves the Philippines and heads for Vietnam, where he is expected to make landfall for the second time. But early reports suggest the destruction has been widespread, especially for the country’s 10 million agricultural workers. On Polillo Island on the east coast, more than 300 hectares (741 acres) of rice and “100%” of banana crops were destroyed, local officials said.

“We were really unlucky to get hit just before our harvest,” said Danilo Fausto, president of the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food.

Fausto, who owns a paddy field in Nueva Ecija, said the paddy fields can usually survive weaker cyclones, but Noru’s rapid intensification caught farmers off guard. Many are waiting for their crops to dry up to figure out what they can save, he said, but their incomes are almost certain to suffer.

“It will really push our farmers into poverty, especially those who depend on their harvest to pay their debts,” Fausto said. “If they can’t repay their loans… how are they going to send their children to school?

A melting glacier, a city in peril and a farmer’s fight for climate justice

Farmers can take steps to adapt to climate change, such as changing their planting schedules and investing in resilient crop varieties, said Felino Lansigan, a professor at the University of the Philippines Los Baños who specializes in agriculture. But the government must also get to the root of the problem on the international stage, he argued.

“It’s a shame that countries like us that emit less greenhouse gases are the most vulnerable,” Lansigan said. “That’s why developing countries, including the Philippines, should really push at the next COP for developed countries to drastically reduce their emissions now,” he added, referring to the summit. UN on climate.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. occupies a secondary role as agriculture minister and has been criticized for his response to Noru – the first climate disaster to hit the Philippines since taking office in June.

On Sunday evening, as evacuations were underway, Marcos posted a video blog post on social media recapping his recent trip to the United States, where he attended the United Nations General Assembly and met with President Biden.

“Our trip to New York was a success! he tweeted.

Activists and political opponents criticized the video as insensitive and out of touch. Late Sunday night, the hashtag #NasaanAngPangulo – which translates to “Where is the President? – trending on Twitter.

Marcos said Monday he prefers to leave the response to Noru primarily in the hands of local and state officials, adding that he has no plans to visit any particular disaster sites. “In my experience, when you’re with local government, especially after a typhoon, they have a lot of work,” he said, “I might just bother them.”

As Marcos embarked on an aerial inspection of Luzon, Pangibitan returned to his paddy field. The rows of rice stalks that had been standing the day before were bent over as if they had been trampled on by a huge crowd. A tree that had been blown down blocked a dirt road that went deeper into the field.

“Wherever you look, it’s flat…” the farmer said, his voice trailing off as he walked along the field, surrounded by puddles of water.

“My poor rice. How can I say it’s a good morning? »

Tan reported from Singapore and Cabato from Manila.

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