Prometheus Bound: Disastrous Neglect

By Jose Leon Dulce

As the year comes to a close, it now appears that Typhoon Sendong (international name Washi) is the eadliest storm of 2011. It affected more than 27,000 families in around 190 barangays, in 24 municipalities and cities in the 13 provinces of Region VI, Region VII, Region IX, Region X, Region XI, CARAGA and the ARMM.

Retrieval operations are still going on and thousands of families remain in evacuation centers as their houses were destroyed and swept away by flash floods. With nearly a thousand dead and still more missing, many are asking about how ready the Philippines is as a country to increased hazards such as typhoons and other climate change effects.

National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) director Benito Ramos said not to blame the national government for the disaster in Cagayan de Oro (CDO) and Iligan City. Instead, he puts the blame on the local disaster management council and on the settlements alongside the riverbanks.

It is disheartening to hear handwashing from the national government at this point since they are not entirely blameless in this disaster. Francis Morales of the environmental group Panalipdan Mindanao pointed
out that the vulnerability of the area increased due to the land conversion of watershed areas to benefit pineapple and jathropa plantations in the area. This has been supported by a 2009 study by the University of the Philippines National Institute of Geological Sciences of CDO’s susceptibility to floods revealed the increased vulnerability ofs downstream communities due to the conversion of 2,000 hectares of the Upper Pulangi Watershed’s forest cover into a pineapple plantation owned by the Del Monte Philippines. Inc.

Morales also noted the massive deforestation happening in the area where legal logging (with permits) account for around 70% of logging activities. Mindanao-based environmental journalist BenCyrus Ellorin also reported persisting logging activities through various forest management agreements in Bukidnon’s Mt. Kalatungan that was exempted by the Aquino administration’s Executive Order 23 or the total log ban.

Enforcement of this log ban was supposedly one of the top environment “achivements” of the Aquino government. The logs that were swept dsown with the river flooding points to the effectiveness of its implementation.

Instead of blaming the residents and the communities in the affected areas, the NDRMMC should have ensured that information and warning systems are working in all areas especially those which are known to be vulnerable. Residents and officials did not anticipate and were not able to respond to the month’s worth (180.9 mm) of rainfall in Mindanao due to the typhoon.

Iligan and CDO caught unaware revealed the fact that the national government has no early warning system on the ground on one hand, and that communities lack climate change education and capacity building on the other. This calls for a serious overhaul of our climate change and other environmental laws in order to improve of our communities’ climate resiliency. Anti-environment laws such as the Mining Act of 1995 and the Forestry Code of 1975 are still in place. Mining corporations have even been exempted from EO 23’s total log ban.

Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino called on President Aquino to reverse his veto of the Php 5 billion budget for calamity preparedness in the 2011 budget, noting that the lack of response from both the community and the government can be linked to the lack of pre-disaster preparedness activities such as education and training for citizens and disaster personnel.

If the citizens’ lack of preparedness was the problem, why was the budget for disaster preparedness cut by Aquino? Poverty is a key determinant of climate vulnerability and increasing hazards would result to more disasters. Experts are now acknowledging that extreme weather events are increasing due to global warming.

With the failure of the Conference of Parties (COP) 17 talks in Durban, South Africa to forge a binding deal to set a limit on country emissions and replace the Kyoto Protocol, it becomes more urgent now to prepare our communities to increasing hazards. Recent scientific studies shows that by 2050, global temperature will increase to 2 to 3 degrees Celsius. With this scenario most likely the majority of the world’s population especially the people from developing countries would experience grave climate change impacts such as famine,
epidemics, natural disasters, and environmental degradation at a larger scale and greater intensity.

Ondoy and Pepeng, Pedring and Quiel, and now Sendong: extreme weather events are increasing in number and intensity and are here to stay. Relief operations are continuing and Pres. Aquino belatedly authorized the use of Php1.17 billion in calamity funds for rescue and rehabilitation, but we cannot remain reactive if we are to rise above the climate crisis.###

Jose Leon Dulce is the campaign officer of Kalikasan and is a volunteer of the Samahan ng Nagtatguyod ng Agham at Teknolohiya para sa Sambayanan.

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