Sunday, November 1, 2009

Nature’s Wrath

Known with international code name Ketsana, typhoon Ondoy submerged up to 80% of Metro Manila, and covered with water the areas that never experienced flooding before. Stranding people on rooftops and bringing death and misery to rich and poor alike, it poured 334 millimeters of rain in the first six hours from 8am to 2pm, the highest ever recorded rainfall in the Metropolis. That amount of rain caused by the infamous Ondoy is almost equal to the average monthly rainfall in Metro Manila. The previous record was 341 millimeters over a 24 hour period in 1967. Even after the raining stopped and the waters subsided, Metro Manila and the nearby regions were caught unprepared to handle the evacuees, the injured, and much less the contamination that the floodwaters brought.

The government has been severely battered by the media saying it served a very poor reaction to the situation especially during the critical hours. Particularly lambasted was DND Secretary at the same time NDCC Chairman Gilberto Teodoro Jr who was blamed by some network stations for not rescuing people in distress. Or rather, for not rescuing Christine Reyes, an ABS-CBN actress who has been calling for help from the television network she works for. As of the last official online situation report by NDCC on 27 September 2009, the government effort was able to rescue a total of 5,594 persons. While the humanitarian coordination effort served 193,775 families or 982,408 individuals. NDCC also reported 12,399 houses totally damaged and 21,031 partially damaged. And the total casualties numbered to 335, broken down into 288 dead, 5 injured and 42 missing.

As a component of the NDCC, the Armed Forces of the Philippines performed a very crucial role in the rescue efforts being deployed in the most dangerous areas of operation. In fact, two soldiers and five militiamen died while performing rescue missions on separate occasions. Army Pfc. Venancio Ancheta died after he was hit by a log while saving a drowning man. Likewise, Cpl. Adriano Regua who was leading rescue efforts in Barangay Nanguma in Mabitac, Laguna, was killed while trying to save a militiaman from drowning who was also part of the rescue mission. The militiaman was among the five other CAFGU who perished.

But what is alarming to note though is the peculiarity of this calamity. It submerged areas never before been flooded, and water rose to level at very fast rate never imagined by those who were affected. Others may shrug-off their shoulder and say it is just one special case. But I would rather believe those who say that it is due to climate change. Weather patterns have recently become so erratic. Typhoons occur during the usual dry or summer season, while droughts occur in the supposedly rainy season. Different weather phenomenon such as El Niño, La Niña, and now the “El Niño Modoki” emerges. Some scientists explain that the 11 year sun cycle is the culprit that triggers the La Niña and El Niño Modoki. But human’s contribution plays a big role on the primary reason of global warming, which is emission of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests in its report in 2001 that glacier retreat, ice shelf disruption such as that of Antarctic’s Larsen Ice Shelf, sea level rise, changes in rainfall patterns, and increased intensity and frequency of extreme weather events are attributable in part to global warming. And a major culprit in this irreversible process is human activity particularly the increasing rate of forest denudation and combustion of fossil fuels. The rise in CO2 concentration, methane, troposphere ozone, CFCs and nitrous oxide occurred since the start of the industrial revolution. Presently, we are still not addressing with full attention this concern and remain mediocre in preventing the change in global climate.
During the intensity of the typhoon, flood level increased very rapidly that people no longer have enough time to respond. The rate of increase may be attributed to the voluminous water poured from the sky. However, there are still areas where water has not yet completely subsided as of this writing. This means that the small tunnels of many drainage systems remain clogged due to a lot of waste. Small pieces of plastic wraps may, in a way or another, have a big piece in the reason why water rose too fast. Ordinary citizen have contributed individually with their petty trashes that clogged the drainage system. Many local government units boast of Solid Waste Management Program but very few have actually implemented them seriously up to the individual households and every individual citizen.
Sincerity of government effort in environmental protection is in doubt. We have a total log ban that is not indeed TOTAL. We have a “Clean Air Act” that never eliminated or discouraged the use of diesel fuel (which emits 22.2 lbs/gallon of CO2 as compared to 19.4 lbs/gallon for gasoline), not to mention the particulate black carbon and associated organic matter ("soot") emitted per kilometer.

Disaster response by the NDCC and its subordinate Coordinating Councils is only a first aid to emergency. The Philippines’ ailing environment needs a long term cure that warrants the cooperation of every sector of the society. Our government should take bold steps to pursue sustainable development. RP should make a clear statement in the forthcoming Copenhagen Summit for Climate Change on December 2009 and stand for that statement at the homeland. Though our present government does not seem to consider environmental protection as a priority concern, as the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.” In the context of the country’s physical health, abuse on environmental exploitation in all forms must be attended to deter its long term effect. And minimize, if not prevent immediate occurrence of world climate change. Climate change is already here, it is now a matter of slowing it down and prolong the life of the earth.

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