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.

Two deadly storms struck the Philippines in the last two weeks killing more than 500 people. The first storm triggered the worst flooding in Metro Manila and nearby provinces. The flooding disaster affected more than three million individuals. The second storm tragedy unleashed massive landslides in the northern part of the Philippines. It also forced several dams to release large amounts of water which caused unprecedented flooding in several provinces in the north.

The number of casualties continues to rise and the economic toll is huge. Foreign aid is arriving but these charity funds will only last a few weeks. The national government will have to shoulder most of the expenses in rehabilitating the damaged local infrastructures.

Strong typhoons and other natural calamities will continue to wreak havoc in the country. Situated inside the Pacific Ring of Fire, the Philippines is constantly plagued by typhoons, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. It is not financially feasible for the government to spend hundreds of millions of dollars every time a disaster hits the country. Instead, the government should focus its efforts in aiming to minimize the disastrous effect of natural calamities. The long term goal should be to reduce the number of lost lives and properties in disaster-prone areas.

The recent storm tragedies provided us with concrete lessons on how to effectively survive the next great disaster.

First, good governance is the key to mitigate the brutal impact of natural calamities. All government agencies should develop programs to deal with environmental disasters. Both national and local governments should have emergency teams that can be dispatched during crisis situations.

Disaster preparedness should be a top priority of all public and private institutions. At the height of Typhoon Ketsana’s onslaught, many were shocked to discover that the government has only a limited number of rubber boats that can be used to rescue stranded residents in flooded villages. The available tents for the temporary shelter of evacuees are grossly inadequate too.

There is also a shortage of skilled personnel who can help the government in the reconstruction efforts. The country lacks competent scientists and engineers who can advise authorities during natural disasters. The government should invest in developing the needed human capital to help the country adapt to the changing state of the global environment.

While the ferocity of Typhoons Ketsana and Parma was unexpected, the possibility that such strong typhoons can occur and hit the country has long been predicted by scientists. The government is aware of the vulnerabilities of the Philippines to the harmful impact of climate change. In fact, President Gloria Arroyo even appointed herself as climate change czar early this year to personally oversee the implementation of green programs in the country.

Now is the right time to assess the environmental programs and policies of the government. Obviously, they are inadequate and ineffective. The Early Warning System didn’t work as thousands were still trapped during the flooding disaster. Hundred were buried in mudslides. Dams released water without giving enough time for villagers to evacuate to higher grounds.

The Philippines has been a recipient of numerous environmental aid programs in the past. How was the money spent? Why didn’t the government upgrade its weather facilities?

It is curious that the cities which suffered the most in the recent typhoon disasters were among the most competitive cities in the country. Marikina was recognized by the Philippine Cities Competitive Ranking Project as the Most Competitive Metro City in 2005. Marikina was hailed for its excellent infrastructure and responsive local government unit. Dagupan was the winner in the small cities category. Both Marikina and Dagupan were heavily damaged by the recent floods. This proves that a city with a dynamic local economy can also suffer during natural disasters especially if its neighboring cities are not competitive. Lesson: there should be a comprehensive development of cities and provinces in the country.

There are also positive stories to remember in the recent storm tragedies. One of which is the intelligent use of the internet by Filipino netizens to help flood victims. An interactive map was established showing the extent of destruction caused by the twin typhoons. New media sites like Twitter and Facebook were maximized to direct rescuers and charity groups to locations where relief and emergency assistance are most needed. By uploading pictures and videos of the flooding in Metro Manila, Filipino bloggers helped in convincing the international community about the need to give immediate aid to the Philippines.

Stories of heroism also abound like neighbors giving shelter to homeless families, strangers rescuing trapped individuals in flooded homes, students donating their school allowances to relief groups, and young people volunteering in community centers and soup kitchens. To use a term popularized by a government agency, the charity-virus is spreading in the country. Volunteerism is back.

Through Typhoons Ketsana and Pepeng, many Filipinos were educated about climate change. In the past, climate change is viewed by many as an abstract subject, an academic term. Today, climate change is feared because of the heavy rainfall, flooding, mudslides, landslides, and other extreme weather disturbances which hit the country. It is now easier to persuade residents about the importance of protecting the fragile environment. Even authorities are beginning to understand the political and social cost of tolerating activities which pollute the environment.

It will take a long time to revive the shattered local economy. Many lives were destroyed and those who survive have to cope with rising food prices, inadequate housing facilities, and damaged public utilities. There is much suffering in the country, especially in the rural areas of north Philippines. The government should tap the renewed sense of volunteerism and hope among many Filipinos to bring back the country on the road to progress.

Related articles:

Competitive cities
Coping with climate change

2 Responses to “Lessons from the Philippine flooding disaster”

  1. Just wanted to say HI. I found your blog a few days ago on Technorati and have been reading it over the past few days.

    Stacey Derbinshire

  2. […] Lessons from Ondoy and Pepeng Typhoon 101 Typhoon Milenyo Environment refugees […]

    Mong Palatino » Blog Archive » More lessons from the Philippines’ storms

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