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Climate change and violence

by Janssen Mozar Martinez

It was a fairly hot noon of April 1st when news of the Kidapawan incident broke. Demonstrators, consisting mostly of farmers were violently dispersed by local police. They created a blockade along the national highway to demand food assistance from the local government due to the severe damages to their livelihood brought by El Niño.

Rocks were thrown. Shots were fired in return. Farmers were killed. A number of individuals from both the dispersal team and the demonstrators were reportedly injured. Blood on the street. Many call it a massacre.

A mural along España Boulevard, Manila demanding justice for the Kidapawan farmers killed during the incident.

Hours after the initial chaos, finger-pointing began.

Stories from both sides are being told and re-told in television, radio, print, and the internet. Politicians (both pro- and anti- government) and other personalities have given their takes on what happened.

Most people problematize, ask, and debate on who is responsible (or who is to blame) for such a violent incident. Is it the President’s fault? Is it the local government and the untrained police force tasked with dispersal? Is it the fault of the farmers? Or is it some other entity in the shadows?

What are we not asking?

Are we really thinking about the “right” problem? Things are not what they seem, says one sociologist.

The Kidapawan incident is not just some misunderstanding between government and non-government forces. It implicates both human and non-human forces converging, escalating into violence.

We can understand the situation better by looking into the circumstances affecting Kidapawan City along with the majority of Mindanao region. The negative effects of El Niño has brought damages to Mindanao’s main industries, particularly agriculture. In Northern Mindanao alone, agricultural damage have reached Php792 million worth of crops.

El Niño is a phenomenon of irregularities in the ocean and weather systems that start in the waters of the tropical Pacific and can send severe droughts and dry spells to different tropical countries, including the Philippines. One may argue that El Niño is already a “regular” event happening in a cycle, and it is the farmers’ fault that they have not adapted to it. Which is not the case, according to recent climate science. Slow onset climate change impacts (SOI), such as prolonged drought, increased precipitation, sea level rise, and changes in ocean temperature, are identified as influencing factors compounding the detrimental effects of climate events, including El Niño.

Compared to previous episodes, it is observed that the frequency and occurrence of recent El Niño are affected by SOI. Worsened by SOI, drought brought upon by El Niño is almost equivalent to agricultural damage; and agricultural damage in turn aggravates the existing food insecurity crisis. Food insecurity bring forth “economic shocks” which harbor conflict, particularly in impoverished areas.

We must see that climate change effects do not only influence natural phenomena such as El Niño and La Niña, droughts, and super-typhoons such as Yolanda (Haiyan). Climate change can alter social behavior and conditions, potentially creating monsters among us.

It must be recognized that the Kidapawan incident is not simply an issue of government inefficiency and poverty. It is a manifestation of an impending climate-induced crisis if we, as a nation, choose not to act. Years after today, when El Niño-like droughts and Yolanda-like super-typhoons indeed become the Philippines’ “new normal” and our livelihood systems have not yet fully-adapted to such climate realities, shall we expect more Kidapawan incidents, or can we imagine a better future?


Note: Featured photo from Greenpeace 

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