Climate Change, Environmental Hazards, Sustainability

Facing the Challenges of Climate Change in Manila

The slums of Manila are in low-lying areas and are particularly vulnerable to climate change.
Photo: saiko3p /

There has been a lot of talk about rising sea levels and other ways climate change will impact cities around the world. For most places it’s just talk, which might be why so few people seem to be taking it seriously. But in the Philippines, those challenges are very much a reality—one that has already caused thousands of deaths and left millions homeless, and will continue to do so.

Manila is the capital of the Philippines, and one of the cities there under direct assault by climate change. It is home to a great many climate refugees, many of whom live in slums and ramshackle neighborhoods that will not survive the next typhoon. The government is taking the issue seriously, though. It is looking for ways to push new developments that can handle the oncoming changes as well as ways to fund them.

But it’s not going to be easy.

“The problem is huge,” says Avelino Tolentino III, director of policy development legislation for the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council. “It’s an accumulation of decades upon decades of doing this wrong, doing that wrong.”

Tolentino has written a report on the situation that he is going to present at Habitat IIII, the third United Nations conference on housing and urbanization that happens every 20 years. The report is designed to advise other nations about what is going on in the Philippines, but also to suggest things that can be done there. It places urgency on infrastructure development—roads, bridges, traffic issues and public transit.

However, Tolentino says there are no shortcuts. Manila has been developing unchecked for decades, and the solution will take time and money to be worked out.

But it’s not just Manila. Many of the world’s largest, oldest cities are parked along coastlines, and they’re the places that most need to adapt in order to meet the challenges of climate change.

We talk about ways to slow or reverse climate change, but the fact is that even if we do, we should still be preparing for it. It’s important to develop urban centers and small communities that are or will be at risk due to global climate change.

The Philippines will hopefully serve as a model for how to do that, and not as simply a warning of what can happen. It is imperative that the government in Manila find ways to “climate-proof” that and other communities, but they need support from the rest of the world in doing it.


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