At a Loss
What happened last weekend? As early as Thursday evening (Sept. 24), the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) had already issued flood warnings and even raised storm signals by Friday. By that time, the NDCC could have already coordinated with concerned local government units (LGUs) and readied an evacuation and rescue plan. The forced release of water from the Angat and other dams during the height of rainfall on Saturday, which aggravated the flooding, could have been properly timed with evacuation efforts, and would surely have saved many lives in affected areas.
But none of these were evident during Ondoy’s onslaught. Until Saturday noon, during the height of the heavy rains and when flooding began, the NDCC seemed to be at a loss on what to do. Numerous pleas for rescue from affected residents through the broadcast media mostly went unheeded and many were able to escape death by themselves or with the help of neighbors.
The NDCC’s excuse was that they only had 13 rubber boats at that time. Government, however, could not claim lack of funds. In 2007 alone, the Philippines received official development assistance (ODA) commitments from foreign donors worth $8.9 million to fund disaster prevention and preparedness aside from $32.28 million from 2005 to 2007 for climate change-related initiatives. These amounts are on top of what government allocates for its calamity fund. What happened to these funds? The nonprofit Ibon Foundation demanded to know on Friday. (Read sidebar: Where Did Millions of Aid for Disaster Relief Go? Ibon Wants to Know)
Warnings Came Much Earlier
Actually, the warnings came much, much earlier than Pagasa’s flood bulletin last Sept. 24, if only government listened and responded enough. Extreme weather events and climate anomalies have already been observed in the country in the past couple of decades. The 2007 report of the United Nation’s (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for instance, noted that the number of typhoons entering the Philippine area of responsibility has increased by 4.2 during the period 1990 to 2003. Increases in annual rainfall and in the number of rainy days have also been noted as well as the increasing sea level in the country’s major coastal cities, with Manila exhibiting the highest increase.
The Philippines, in fact, is among the first countries to recognize the threats of the climate crisis. As early as May 1991, the late President Corazon Aquino already issued Presidential Order No. 220 that created the Inter-Agency Committee on Climate Change (IACCC) under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). The country is also among the original signatories to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) in 1994 and among the first to ratify its Kyoto Protocol in 2003.
It is important to note, however, that these landmark agreements, which are direct global responses to climate change, are hampered by fundamental issues. For instance, not only are the targets outrageously low, rich countries – which account for bulk of historical greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions with the eight richest countries comprising about 65% – can also achieve them even without actually reducing their emissions. In fact, the implementing rules of the Kyoto Protocol, as largely defined by First World countries and corporate lobby groups, could even result in a net increase in GHG emissions in the long run.