By: Artchil B. Fernandez
THERE WAS no typhoon but Metro Manila, many areas in Central and Northern Luzon as well as parts of the Visayas was under water. This strange and unusual phenomenon of excessive rainfall is the new norm of the present era according to climate scientists. Filipinos and the global community have to live with this scenario for it is the most likely feature of life in this planet henceforth.
Typhoon Gener just left but torrential monsoon rains called “Habagat” battered the country without let-up. In a span of three days, southwest monsoon dumped 1007 mm of rainfall in the country, mostly in Luzon. The amount of rain that fell last August 6-8 was almost double the 540 mm Pag-asa projected for the whole month of August. The result was a deluge.
More than half of Metro Manila was submerged affecting more than 2.4 million people. Around 360,000 left their homes and sought shelter in evacuation centers. The nightmare of Ondoy that occurred three years ago returned as hundreds of thousands in the metropolis scrambled to save themselves from rampaging water.
According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) death due to massive flooding reached 60. It affected 2,442,135 people in 13 provinces and 31 cities in the country. Damage is projected to exceed the Php 11 billion brought about by Ondoy.
Climatologists have long warned that among the ill-effects of global warming are erratic weather, super storms and excessive rainfall. What the country experienced last week was one of the frightening consequences of global warming. The 2009 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction found that 97 percent of municipal reports on disaster losses in Asia and Latin America are due to weather-related dangers.
Global warming is man-induced. Once more Filipinos and the world are reminded how human recklessness, greed and insensitivity, the primary culprits of global warming wreck lives and sow destruction.
While people easily pin last week’s cataclysm to the evils of global warming, there are other factors that made the situation grave. Chief among them is the hardheadedness of the people.
As water was rising, officials ordered the populace in affected areas to evacuate. Many refused and ignored the order, despite the pleas aired. People waited for water to rise to dangerous and threatening level before deciding to leave their homes. By that time, it was already difficult for rescuers to reach them. Thousands were left stranded on rooftops, shivering, wet and hungry. Had they heeded the early order, the casualties and suffering would have been less.
Another reason for the worsening flood, particularly in Metro Manila is the congestion of water ways, rivers and drainage systems. In the metropolis alone, it is estimated that 125,000 families have built shanties inside the drainage systems, along river banks, and under bridges. These people, aside from clogging the water outlets also throw enormous amount of garbage in the water ways.
Moving these people from the water ways require a strong political will. These squatters are rich source of votes and politicians, especially local government officials are reluctant to relocate them. With the national and local elections few months from now, it is doubtful if local officials have the desire to decongest the water ways, thus the problem is once more forgotten until the next calamity.
The Global Assessment Report of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction pointed to weak urban governance as one of the causes of disaster risk. Aside from lack of political will to deal with squatters, another manifestation of weak urban governance is poor urban planning of many cities and urban centers in the country.
Development in many towns and cities are usually unplanned. Without a well-thought urban development plan, many urban centers have chaotic development pattern. Disorganized development leads to uneven and messy arrangement of residences, commercial centers, and industrial areas thus aggravating the situation when flooding comes.
Completing the recipe for disaster are illegal logging, siltation of rivers and streams, lack of comprehensive flood control plan, corruption and negligence. Given these factors, more lives and properties will be lost under the new norm of climate change in the future.
It is frustrating that the cycle of catastrophe has been happening and continues to occur despite calls in the past and at present to do something about the situation. The gnashing of teeth and pounding of breast just go on and on. When will people ever learn and heed the lessons of the tragedies, past and present?
Filipinos it appear are contended with passing mourning and wailing then return to the same destructive routine few weeks later until the next disaster strike. This is the most painful reality of all.