Tag Archives: Philippines

Powerful typhoon forces thousands to evacuate in the Philippines

The typhoon Rai, also known locally as Odette, has forced nearly 100,000 people to be evacuated from high-risk areas in the southeast of the Philippines, after bringing torrential rain and the threat of flooding in the archipelago. The typhoon has generated winds of 185 kilometers (115 miles) per hour, and although there have been no reports of casualties or major damage, authorities are still on alert.

Image credit: Flickr / EU.

Among all meteorological disasters, typhoons are among the most severe ones in terms of human lives and urban development affected. They have a great destructive power and can bring other hazards such as flooding. There’s also scientific consensus that global warming is making typhoons stronger and more frequent. However, these disasters are often underreported by international media.

The Philippines is often described as one of the world’s hotspots for typhoons, floods, droughts and earthquakes. Every year, about 20 typhoons, (the equivalent of 25% of all typhoons around the globe), take place in the country. Most occur during the rainy season, from July to September, but studies showed this is now extending to December.

The country is surrounded by warm ocean water and this paves the way for typhoons, which need a water temperature above 28ºC. In the recent decades, the Philippines has seen a number of devastating typhoons affecting the country, including typhoon Ondoy in 2009, Pepeng in 2009, Juan in 2010, Sendong in 2011 and Labuyo in 2013. 

Typhoon Rai is the 15th one to hit the country this year. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has described it as “one of the world’s strongest storms” of the year and said it’s threatening “millions of people with destructive winds and flash floods” – deploying volunteers to help local residents. 

“This monster storm is frightening and threatens to hit coastal communities like a freight train. We are very concerned that climate change is making typhoons more ferocious and unpredictable,” IFRC Head of Philippine Country Office Alberto Bocanegra said in a statement. “Emergency teams are in overdrive to help people.”

A destructive power

The country’s weather agency, PAGASA, said the typhoon made landfall in the Siargao Island earlier today, with “very destructive typhoon-force winds” already visible in several parts of the country. Storm surges in coastal areas are expected, PAGASA said, as well as flooding and landslides. Over 98,000 people have already been evacuated.

Keeping people safely distanced in evacuation centers amid the Covid-19 pandemic has proven challenging for authorities. The Philippines is one of the countries in Southeast Asia most affected by the pandemic, with over 2,8 million infections and 50,000 deaths. Initial infections from the Omicron variant were already detected prior to the typhoon.

The government has placed eight regions of the country (all in central and southern areas) on the highest level in emergency preparedness and response protocol. Most domestic flights were canceled, schools and workplaces were shut in vulnerable areas and all vessels were grounded by the coast guard, stranding nearly 4,000 people.

“We have undertaken all the necessary precautions, prepositioned resources, and closely coordinated with the localities to prepare for immediate emergency and relief response,” President Rodrigo Duterte said in the inauguration of a new train, adding the government is closely monitoring the movement of typhoon across the country. 

People in the Philippines are the most Denisovan in the world

Genetic analysis has found clear traces that humans and Denisovans interbred in the past. The Philippine ethnic group known as the Ayta Magbukon has the highest level of Denisovan ancestry in the world.

The Negritos group in the Philippines comprises some 25 different ethnic groups, scattered throughout the Andaman archipelago in South-East Asia. They were once considered to be a single population, but the more researchers looked into it, the more they found that Negritos are actually very diverse.

In the new study, Maximilian Larena of Uppsala University and colleagues set out to establish the demographic history of the Philippines. Their project involved indigenous cultural communities, local universities, as well as official and non-governmental organizations from the area. With everyone working together, they were able to analyze 2.3 million genotypes from 118 ethnic groups in the Philippines — including the diverse Negrito populations.

The results were particularly intriguing for a population called the Ayta Magbukon, which still occupy vast swaths of their ancestral land and continue to coexist with the lowland population surrounding them. The Ayta Magbukon seem to possess the highest level of Denisovan ancestry in the world.

“We made this observation despite the fact that Philippine Negritos were recently admixed with East Asian-related groups—who carry little Denisovan ancestry, and which consequently diluted their levels of Denisovan ancestry,” said Larena “If we account for and masked away the East Asian-related ancestry in Philippine Negritos, their Denisovan ancestry can be up to 46 percent greater than that of Australians and Papuans.”

This finding, along with the recent discovery of a small-bodied hominin called Homo luzonensis, suggests that multiple hominin species inhabited the Philippines prior to the arrival of modern humans — and these groups likely interbred multiple times.

The Denisovans are a mysterious group of hominins identified in 2010 based on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) extracted from a juvenile female finger bone from the Siberian Denisova Cave. Although researchers haven’t found numerous traces of DNA, they’ve discovered traces of their DNA in modern populations. Apparently, this group in the Philippines has the highest percentage of Denisovan DNA in the world — at least that we’ve found so far.

“This admixture led to variable levels of Denisovan ancestry in the genomes of Philippine Negritos and Papuans,” co-author Mattias Jakobsson said. “In Island Southeast Asia, Philippine Negritos later admixed with East Asian migrants who possess little Denisovan ancestry, which subsequently diluted their archaic ancestry. Some groups, though, such as the Ayta Magbukon, minimally admixed with the more recent incoming migrants. For this reason, the Ayta Magbukon retained most of their inherited archaic tracts and were left with the highest level of Denisovan ancestry in the world.”

Researchers hope to sequence more genomes and better understand “how the inherited archaic tracts influenced our biology and how it contributed to our adaptation as a species,” Larena concludes.

Journal Reference: “Philippine Ayta possess the highest level of Denisovan ancestry in the world” 

The Philippines declares ‘no new coal plants’ but campaigners say it’s not enough

Following a reassessment of the country’s energy system, the Philippines declared a moratorium on new coal-fired plants. The move halts applications for new plants but doesn’t extend to previously approved projects already in the pipeline, a decision questioned by environmental organizations.

A Greenpeace protest against coal in the Philippines. Credit Greenpeace

“While we have initially embraced a technology-neutral policy, our periodic assessment of our country’s energy requirements is paving the way for innovative adaptations in our policy direction,” said Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi in a statement, previously questioned for not pursuing carbon-free power generation.

The government hasn’t yet identified the power plants that would be affected by the moratorium. But a network of anti-coal groups said in a statement that the ban would mean the cancellation of over 13GW of new coal plants. The move will help the government have a “more flexible” power supply mix, said Cusi.

As in other countries, coal is seen as a baseload energy resource in the Philippines, sufficiently cost-effective to provide a constant stream of power. It accounts for 44.5% of the total energy mix, with 28 coal-fired power plants operating throughout the country. This has long been questioned by environmental organizations.

The reliance on coal for electricity generation has led to regular power outages and increasing disruptions in the energy sector. The pandemic exacerbated the issue. Climate predictions of more frequent and intense extreme weather events such as typhoons also point to the need for a more flexible energy system.

“The decision is an admission of what we have long been saying about coal: that it is environmentally destructive, incompatible with climate goals, and unable to power our economy sustainably and reliably,” said in a statement Gerry Arances, executive director of the Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED).

Before the new plan, the government had approved new 22 coal plants, which would increase coal’s share in the energy matrix to 53%. This goes against the Philippines’ decarbonization commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Still, these new plants will move forward as the ban only applies to proposed projects that haven’t yet been assessed and approved by the government. Coal projects that have been granted environmental compliance certificates and other permits from local governments in the areas where they’re based are also not included in the ban.

“The significance of the announcement will be ultimately judged by what the moratorium actually covers,” Lidy Nacpil from the Asian People’s Movement on Debt and Development (APMDD), said in a statement. “The energy department must enforce a moratorium on all coal power developments, including all coal power projects in the pipeline.”

Looking ahead, the government hopes to grow renewables in the energy mix and reduce the high cost of electricity, taking advantage of the dropping costs of clean energy. They also want to encourage foreign investments in large scale geothermal projects, announcing more flexible rules on foreign ownership limits.

Coronavirus in Philippines — live updates, cases, and news

Coronavirus cases and fatalities in Philippines

The number is based on confirmed diagnostic tests. It is very likely that the true number of COVID-19 cases is higher as many cases are asymptomatic.

New COVID-19 cases and fatalities per day in Philippines

This is a good indicator of “flattening the curve” — when there is a steady decreasing trend, it is an indicator that the spread of the disease is slowing down.

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If you’d like to use these graphs and maps on your site or articles, please e-mail us.

What is COVID-19?

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a respiratory disease which has now spread to the United States.

It is mild for most people, but can cause severe illness and result in death for some. Older adults and people with chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes, have the greatest risk of becoming severely ill.

There is no vaccine and no medications approved to treat COVID-19 at this time.

How does it spread? 

COVID-19 spreads from person to person, mainly through coughs and sneezes of infected people or between people who are in close contact.

Symptoms

If you suspect you are infected with COVID-19, call ahead before visiting a medical facility so they can prepare. Do not go to an emergency room with mild symptoms.

The symptoms of COVID-19 are:

  • fever
  • cough
  • shortness of breath

Coronavirus in Philippines News:

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Coronavirus in Philippines Timeline:

The Philippines was one of the first countries outside of China to suffer an outbreak. The first confirmed case was reported on January 30. Surprisingly, a 5-year-old boy was also one of the first confirmed cases.

After a month of reporting no new cases, on March 6, the DOH announced two cases consisting of two Filipinos, and thus began the second wave of infections.

Cases involving foreigners emerged in early March 2020, and despite several measures which included travel bans, the disease started to spread in the country.

President Duterte declared “Code Red Sub-Level 2” on March 12, issuing a partial lockdown on Metro Manila, where most cases were reported. The entire of Luzon was placed under an “enhanced community quarantine” — or a total lockdown. Less than a week later, on March 17, Duterte declared the Philippines under a state of calamity for a tentative period of six months.

The Philippines has opened new facilities to conduct confirmatory testing: the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City, Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in Cebu City, Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center in Benguet, and San Lazaro Hospital in Manila began conducting tests.

In April 7, President Duterte extended the Luzon enhanced community quarantine until April 30. As of April 17, the Philippines is successful in flattening the curve, reducing the viral disease’ reproduction number to 0.65 from 1.5, which means that the average number of people a person can infect decreased from more than one to less than one.

The government has announced a PHP 27.1 billion fiscal package (about 0.15 percent of 2019 GDP), which comprises the following measures: additional purchase of COVID 19 testing kits and health equipment; social protection for vulnerable workers; and support to the tourism and agriculture sectors.

GM “golden” rice approved for consumption in the Philippines

In the Philippines, a country of over 100 million people, almost half of the children are suffering from vitamin A deficiencies. This nutrient-rich golden rice has the potential to change all that.

Golden rice is engineered with genes that boost its beta-carotene content, a precursor of vitamin A. Image credits: International Rice Research Institute.

Genetically Modified (GM) foods (sometimes GMO) are still a highly controversial topic. The technology has the potential to revolutionize our food systems, but the public is overwhelmingly against it. However, studies have shown that, if the process is carried out properly, GMO’s offer little reason for concern.

Some places, however, are more receptive than others — and the Phillippines is a good example. GMO corn is already transforming farmers’ lives in the country, as the GMO strain is much more resistant to pests, which would often wreak havoc into plantations.

Now, another emblematic modified crop will enter the stage in Phillippines: rice.

According to a thorough national report, golden rice is just as safe for consumption as regular rice. This comes as no surprise, as several scientific reports had already reached the same conclusion.

“This is a victory for science, agriculture and all Filipinos,” member of congress Sharon Garin said in a statement.

The Philippines is one of several lower-income countries with widespread vitamin A deficiency — a dietary condition that affects the immune system and can cause a series of chronic conditions, including blindness. Every year, this deficiency kills over half a million children worldwide, largely because they don’t consume enough beta-carotene. This problem is particularly prevalent in countries where the local diet greatly relies on rice and features few other legumes.

Golden rice has the potential to make a huge impact here — a single portion carries more than half of the daily requirement, which can make all the difference in the world. But while the prototype was unveiled in 1999, few countries have approved it for mass consumption: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States — all high-income countries with low prevalence of vitamin A deficiency. This lack of wide-scale approval is largely owed to public controversy. Researchers hope that as more and more countries approve this type of crop, the baseless controversy will also be quenched.

The scientific evidence has long shown that golden rice (as well as other GMOs on the market) are safe to plant, process and eat — and more and more governments are starting to understand this. After the Philippines, Bangladesh (a country of 164 million people) is probably next in line.

However, people will have to wait a bit more before they can eat this golden rice. The crop has not yet received the green light for commercial propagation — which is necessary for farmers to plant it in the fields. The International Rice Research Institute, the Philippine-based organization developing the country’s golden rice, plans to submit its application for approval as soon as possible.

New law would require all Phillipino students to plant 10 trees to graduate

The new environmental law would ensure that at least 175 million new trees are planted each year, while also cultivating environmental awareness among the younger generations.

Mangrove trees in the Philippines. Image credits: Yinan Chen.

It seems a bit random, but the more you think about it, the more sense it seems to make. The “Graduation Legacy for the Environment Act” passed through the House of Representatives. If implemented, it would require all students (elementary, high school and college students) to plant at least 10 trees before being able to graduate. The idea isn’t only to plant more trees, but also to foster a greener culture among the country’s youth.

Gay Alejano, who proposed the bill, explains:

“With over 12 million students graduating from elementary and nearly five million students graduating from high school and almost 500,000 graduating from college each year, this initiative, if properly implemented, will ensure that at least 175 million new trees would be planted each year. In the course of one generation, no less than 525 billion can be planted under this initiative.” He added that “even with a survival rate of only 10 per cent, this would mean an additional 525 million trees would be available for the youth to enjoy.”

It’s not clear exactly how the logistics of this would work, although the schools would be responsible for enabling and facilitating the planting. A great deal of emphasis will be on planting in areas such as mangrove forests, existing forests, protected areas, military ranges, abandoned mining sites, and selected urban areas. Of course, the planted species will be tailored to every different area, considering the local geography and climate.

The Philippines is one of the most severely deforested countries in the world, with most of the deforestation taking place in the last 40 years. This has had cascading effects on the country, from causing accelerated soil erosion to reducing water quality and threatening indigenous communities, while also increasing the risk of floods and landslides. It is hoped that this law, if passed, can help alleviate these negative effects.

Of course, having millions of students plant trees sounds great, but forcing them to do so has a certain totalitarian ring to it that will definitely not resonate with many people.

Additionally, transportation and logistics, which will also have a negative environmental impact, need to be handled properly and as sustainably as possible — but all in all, this type of forward-thinking policy is what we need to really address the environmental crisis the Philippines (and the world) is facing. What do you think?

Scientists find new shrew species in Philippines — in a special “sky island”

The new shrew can teach us a lot about biodiversity, habitats, and even flood prevention.

An illustration of the newly identified Palawan moss shrew.

The Philippines is teeming with life — with over 200 species of mammals, 400 species of reptiles, and almost 700 species of birds, it’s definitely one of the planet’s biodiversity hotspots. Now, we can add one more creature to that very long list:  a shrew found around 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) above sea level.

Palawanosorex muscorum, commonly known as the Palawan moss shrew, was first spotted 2007 by the late Danilo “Danny” Balete, field survey leader and research associate at the Field Museum. Unlike other shrews, this critter’s tail is covered in dense fur rather than visible scales. Sporting a slender, pointed snout, a dark coat, and long claws, the Palawan moss shrew spends most of its time digging through moss and humus for its favorite snack: juicy earthworms.

Rainer Hutterer, the paper’s lead author, carried out a detailed analysis of all these traits and behavior, ultimately concluding that it was indeed a different species. Larry Heaney, Curator of Mammals at the Field Museum in Chicago, who also worked on the paper, said that the discovery of the species wasn’t surprising in the least — after all, its habitat is a biodiversity hotbed.

“In many ways, finding this species was exactly what we had expected,” Heaney explains.

But perhaps even more important than the animal itself, the finding could show biologists how the Philippines‘ many mammal species got there in the first place, and how they became so unique.

Mount Mantalingahan, a peak of 2085 m, in the Philippines. The summit ridge is two to three days distant on foot, and one and a half days on the downward return journey. Image credits: Alastair Robinson, July 2007.

For instance, Heaney says, the Palawan moss shrew’s home is a hotbed within a hotbed. Mt. Mantalingahan, where the shrew can be found, is home to three unique mammal species, including the shrew.

“There are entire countries that don’t have three unique mammal species — so for there to be three species on one mountain, on one island, in one country is really something,” Heaney emphasizes.

So how can this extreme biodiversity be explained? The key lies in something called “sky islands”. Far from being a sci-fi concept, a sky island is an isolated mountain habitat surrounded by radically different lowland environments. The isolation has significant implications for these natural habitats, creating hubs of biodiversity, which allow multiple species to thrive and coexist within a single geographic area.

However, because these rich habitats are so isolated, it also makes it more difficult for biologists to study them.

“There could be many new species on these high mountainous regions in the Philippines, but because they are so high, and hard to get to, knowledge of their existence is awfully limited,” Heaney says.

But the shrew’s home, Mt. Mantalingahan, also serves as a crucial watershed, regulating the flow of water in Palawan through natural processes. In the higher parts of the mountains, there’s a great amount of rainfall. The humus through which the shrew likes to dig through, searching for worms, acts as a sponge, preventing all the water from going off the mountain. Deforestation, which almost always has negative effects on biodiversity, can be even more devastating on these sky islands — not only on the creatures inhabiting the ecosystem but also on the lowland people, which depend on the rainfall water.

“That’s where most of the water comes from that people in the lowlands depend on,” Heaney warns. “In deforested areas, when a typhoon hits, it kills thousands of people and animals, and destroys buildings. And if water isn’t being released slowly from the mountains, you’ll have less of it in the dry season, causing drought. If you want to protect your watersheds, you’ve got to protect your habitats.”

Many developers have been asking to tear down some of Mount Mantalingahan’s forests for industrial development. But as Palawan, which hosts over half a million people, greatly relies on the flow of highland water, it’s in the best interest of everybody to keep the forests as intact as possible. So in this particular case, the smart economic bet is to not develop at all.

“Sometimes it’s presented that environmental concerns and economic development are at odds with each other. That’s false,” Heaney asserts. “Smart economic development means not creating situations that cause mass damage as a result.”

Beyond the economic advantages, researchers hope that the discovery of new species, such as this shrew, can spark excitement among the Filipino and international scientific communities, which in turn can help encourage research, conservation, and advocacy efforts — something which is much-needed in areas such as the Philippines.

“People in the world get excited about the cool things that live in their country,” Heaney says. “The fact that the Philippines is such a unique hotspot for mammalian diversity is something people should be aware of, something that people can take pride in.”

Dengue vaccine approved for use in Mexico, Brazil and Philippines

Scientific American recently reported that the three countries most affected by dengue fever have approved the use of the first vaccine against this affliction. Officials from Mexico, Philippines and Brazil hope that this will curb the nearly 400 million new infections each year, 22,000 of which result in death.

Dengue symptoms include fever (sometimes as high as 105°F/40°C), pain in muscles, bones and joints, headaches, nose and gum bleeds and other similarly pleasant manifestation. The disease is caused by a virus which spreads through mosquito-bites and is closely related to the Zika virus. It emerged as a worldwide problem in the 1950s and up to now, apart from trying to keep the insects at bay, there was not much people could do to avoid infection.

The countries and areas at risk of dengue transmission are shaded in orange, and the geographical extension of dengue is indicated in red. Data are from the World Health Organization, 2007.
Image via nature

Although dengue rarely occurs in the continental United States, it is endemic in many parts of the world. Clocking in at a staggering 400 million new infections per year, an efficient vaccine for dengue could make a huge difference in the livelihood of those living in high-risk areas.

Enter Sanofi. While it’s not 100 percent effective against dengue infection, trials show that it reduces the chances of contracting the virus from infected mosquitoes by 60 percent (in patients over the age of 9.)

But, more importantly, the drug is 95.5 percent effective in treating dengue hemorrhagic fever, a deadly form of the disease that affects an estimated 500,000 people each year. Sanofi has the potential to drastically reduce incidents of DHF, saving countless lives.

Experts project the first Sanofi inoculations in Brazil, the Philippines and Mexico will take place this year, after each country completes negotiations with Sanofi’s parent company. The World Health Organization will examine the vaccine in April before making global recommendations.