Analysis: Ondoy, Pepeng and the Bane of Development Illusion

In the years ahead, the number and magnitude of disasters will increase with colossal human and economic losses. The task of rescue, recovery, relief and rehabilitation will have to fall more and more on the people themselves as they have in fact done in recent years.

By the Policy Study, Publication, and AdvocacyCenter for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG)

MANILA — Having gone through the shocks and pains of failed development strategies by government, it is high time for the people through their community organizations, progressive legislators, and their local counterparts to intervene in mapping out future development programs. There are venues and forums where alternative development strategies can be voiced out with the scheduled investigations in Congress and class suits as some of the first steps.

Even before the onset of climate change – which is blamed by many Arroyo officials as the culprit behind the devastations wrought by Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng – the impact of natural- and man-made disasters in the Philippines was already catastrophic. One just needs to track the scale and magnitude of disasters in recent years in terms of losses of human lives, property, infrastructures, and the economy to make a review of government’s development tacks urgent.

The Philippines is now the world’s fourth most disaster-prone country (after China, India, and Iran) and also fourth in the number of persons killed, injured, or missing as a result of calamities. The impact of disasters, including typhoons, floods, monsoon rains, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides, as well as human-induced disasters has worsened in recent years. In 10 years (1992-2001), close to 6 million Filipinos were killed or injured as a result of natural- or man-made calamities, reports of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies showed.

The rising toll on human lives can also be attributed to the increase in the number of reported disaster incidents: from 199 in 2001, it leaped to 313 in 2002 and 384 in 2005. Separate reports by the non-government Citizens Disaster Response Center (CDRC) show that although the number of disasters slightly went down to 236 in 2007 and 253 in 2008, the number of displaced individuals showed quantum leaps from 2.6 million in 2005 to 4.3 million in 2007 and doubling again in 2008, with 8.5 million. This year with just two typhoons, Ondoy and Pepeng, uprooting already 6 million persons based on partial accounts the total number of people affected by all types of disasters could jump anywhere from 8 million to 10 million by December. Floods consistently topped the biggest number of persons displaced.

Overarching Impact

The impact of disasters is over-arching. Aside from fatalities and massive numbers of evacuees, disasters destroy almost everything that lie in their paths from dikes to farms, houses and infrastructures such as roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, to power and telecommunication lines. Government authorities usually estimate only the short-term impact of disasters while they gloss over the far-reaching consequences such as loss of livelihood, inability to recoup damaged property, food and health crisis, as well as psychological trauma that cry for an all-sided, long-term rehabilitation and recovery.

As narrow as their lack of disaster preparedness and preventive measures is, government authorities fail to see the connection between disaster and economic management.

A consensus had long been reached particularly in the NGO community and progressive academe in the 1970s-1980s that the impact of disasters brought about by typhoons, earthquakes, and other natural occurrences is aggravated by human-induced disasters resulting from deforestation, mining operations, dam construction, militarization of the countryside, and other “development aggression” projects. The alarm rung by environmentalists, community organizers, scientists, journalists, and social advocates, however, fell on deaf ears as both national executives and legislators adopted hook, line, and sinker development strategies prescribed by the World Bank, IMF, and Asian Development Bank (ADB) to attract foreign investment and help government pay a mounting foreign debt.

Thereafter, infrastructural development led by the construction of irrigation and hydro-electric mega dams, a proposed nuclear power plant, and other projects was pushed more aggressively even as lands, mountains, and watersheds were opened up further for mining operations while logging operations continued despite calls for moratorium. Safety nets such as environmental impact assessment (EIA) and public consultation were largely ignored as many local government units (LGUs) supported the projects in anticipation of kickbacks and other benefits. To contain local opposition, project areas were militarized.

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