Drought dries up dam in Philippines, 300-year-old town revealed

A nearly 300-year-old town, Pantabangan, which was submerged in the 1970s to build a reservoir, has reemerged as scorching temperatures in the Philippines have partially dried up a major dam. This resurfacing is an unusual sight, happening only when the weather turns exceptionally hot and dry. The reemergence of this historic town comes amid a severe drought affecting nearly half of the country, with temperatures hitting a scorching 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) in some regions.

According to Marlon Paladin, an engineer with the government agency responsible for managing the country’s dams, this is the longest the town has been visible since the dam was built. The extreme heat has led to disruptions in daily life, causing schools to close and office workers to be advised to work from home for several days. As temperatures continue to climb, there could be even more disruptions. Meteorologist Benison Estareja from the state-run weather bureau Pagasa noted that the extreme heat is likely to persist, with climate change contributing to warmer temperatures across the Philippines.

The Philippines is in the middle of its warm and dry season, made worse by El Niño, a phenomenon involving the warming of the Pacific Ocean’s surface waters. This warming trend has a significant impact on the country’s weather, leading to extreme conditions. The Philippines, an archipelago nation with an eastern coastline facing the Pacific Ocean, is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, enduring not only extreme heat and drought but also intense storms during the wet season. A stark reminder of this vulnerability was Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, one of the strongest storms in recorded history.

As the drought continues, dam levels are dropping. In Pantabangan, the water level has fallen by nearly 50 meters from its typical high of 221 meters. This drop in water level has prompted the reemergence of the town’s ruins, drawing tourists to the area, which is located about 202 kilometers (125 miles) north of the capital, Manila.

The heatwave is also affecting neighboring countries in Southeast Asia. In Bangladesh, the heat has led to school closures, impacting 33 million students. Thailand has reported 30 heatstroke-related deaths between January and April 17, 2024, nearly matching the total number for all of 2023. In Myanmar, temperatures have exceeded 45 degrees Celsius, creating hazardous conditions for the population.

Overall, the reemergence of Pantabangan serves as a stark reminder of the growing impact of climate change and the extreme weather patterns it can create. As temperatures continue to rise, countries in the region must contend with the resulting disruptions and risks to public health and safety.

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