Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Ketsana is a Lao term for agarwood, the resinous heartwood from large evergreens that are native to Southeast Asia. But from now on, many people will forever remember Ketsana as the name of the typhoon that caused massive destruction in the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos last week.

Ketsana was not the first great typhoon of the year in the Asia-Pacific region. Early this year, a series of flooding disasters struck Fiji, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. A minor flooding calamity also hit Brunei. But the flooding disasters did not force the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and other countries in the Asia-Pacific to meet as one body to coordinate relief and rescue efforts.

So how strong was Typhoon Ketsana? It dumped more rain than Hurricane Katrina. In about six hours it unleashed a whole month’s worth of rain in the Philippines, which triggered the worst flooding in Metro Manila in 40 years. It claimed almost 300 lives. More than 10,000 houses, including 260 schools, were damaged.

Half a million people are now living in overcrowded evacuation centers. More than 200 schools have been converted into refugee centers, which could affect the schooling of many children. As of Oct. 2, typhoon Ketsana had affected 3 million people in Metro Manila and nearby provinces.

After wreaking havoc in the Philippines, Ketsana unleashed its fury in Indochina. It forced the evacuation of 350,000 people in central Vietnam and destroyed more than 300,000 homes, schools and other vital infrastructure in the country. It killed at least 92 people, left 19 missing, and injured 199 according to a government report. Ketsana also destroyed millions of dollars worth of agricultural crops in six provinces, which will affect the country’s food security.

Residents described Ketsana as the most serious and ferocious typhoon to hit Vietnam in the last five years. They also compared the floods caused by it to the deadly 1964 floods.

Ketsana also battered Cambodia and Laos. The casualties in these countries are lower compared to the Philippines and Vietnam but they also experienced unprecedented flooding.

An expat in Cambodia said that it was the first time floods have been so bad in Siem Reap. Another expat wrote that the level of water in the moat surrounding Angkor Wat had reached its peak. A civil society group reported that in one province alone, almost 15,000 homes were flooded.

Ketsana also damaged the southern part of Laos and caused widespread flooding in Xekong and Attapeu provinces. Authorities are also worried that 50 hectares of agricultural land is flooded.

Last August, Typhoon Morakot became the worst calamity to hit Taiwan in the past 200 years. Again, Asia-Pacific nations failed to call an emergency caucus to discuss collective efforts on ways to minimize the negative economic, social and environmental impact of natural disasters in the future.

Today there is a need for ASEAN unity and cooperation to help rebuild the flooded communities in four Southeast Asian countries. The least ASEAN should do is to share resources and volunteers to aid flood victims. ASEAN should lead the international campaign in seeking more economic relief for the calamity-stricken areas in the region.

ASEAN should have a regional disaster-preparedness program. It should identify the environmental high-risk areas in the region and establish a common fund to modernize the weather monitoring facilities of member countries.

It should implement an innovative system to quickly respond to natural calamities. It should have green soldiers, medical teams and volunteers who can be swiftly deployed to any part of the region that needs assistance.

If Typhoon Ketsana were a terrorist group, ASEAN members would have met by now to denounce it and plan measures to prevent another terrorist group from destroying more lives and properties in the future. ASEAN governments should refocus their priorities. Climate change and not terrorism is the number one threat to stability in the region.

There would be many advantages if ASEAN’s efforts in combating the negative effects of climate change were synergized. This would facilitate a productive exchange of new ideas, efficient programs and modern approaches in dealing with climate change. It could foster economic progress based on the principle of environmental sustainability and generate a sense of solidarity among the people in the region. It would also guarantee immediate relief to disaster-hit countries.

This year, as in past years, ASEAN has failed to demonstrate unity although its member countries were ravaged by various natural calamities. Can Typhoon Ketsana finally force a change in attitude among ASEAN leaders?

Related articles:

Asia-Pacific floods 2009
Typhoon Milenyo
Typhoon 101

3 Responses to “ASEAN must help rebuild disaster-hit countries”

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  3. Nice layout


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