Typhoon ‘Pablo’: ‘Grim reality check’ on natural disasters

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The effects of Typhoon “Pablo” in Mindanao revealed to the nation what can happen when Nature’s wrath is coupled with  unabated extraction of natural resources. Hundreds of people were killed after flash floods, accompanied by fallen trees and boulders, swamped entire communities in Compostela Valley. Hundreds of others remain missing.

Pablo is a grim reality check. The carnage it wrought revealed the government’s inability to institute effective disaster preparedness and response systems in grassroots communities. It likewise exposed its failure to regulate the extraction of natural resources, such as timber, and to rehabilitate logged-over forests.

The areas devastated by Pablo are geographically and ecologically connected to places where massive logging operations have been taking place for decades. Data from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources show that deforestation has worsened since 2006 due to the increasing incidence of unemployment and poverty. Many of the illegal logging activities occurred in Surigao del Sur, Agusan del Sur and Agusan del Norte, in areas covered by expired timber concession permits.

The Agusan River Basin, the country’s third largest river basin, is “under siege.” The deteriorating quality of Agusan River Systems—manifested in the loss of biodiversity and degraded natural resources—points to rampant logging, mining and agroplantation activities in forest areas.

The flash floods in Compostela Valley were not an isolated event disconnected from the destruction of its neighboring environment. For instance, Agusan del Sur’s river tributaries directly drain into the valley which had most of the fatalities.

In 2011, Mindanao suffered a devastating loss when Typhoon “Sendong” triggered massive flash floods in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, killing more than a thousand people.

Subsequent investigations revealed that the disaster was brought about by the combined effects of disaster unpreparedness, logging and the conversion of forest lands into plantations for agricultural export.

The nation’s experience with Sendong should have taught the Aquino administration that more needs to be done in order to prevent more loss of lives during extreme weather events. Up to now, environmental and social justice have not yet been given to Sendong’s victims. Up to now, the government has yet to institute far- and deep-reaching reforms vis-a-vis disaster preparedness, land use planning, environmental protection, protection of natural resources, and rehabilitation of vulnerable and degraded lands.

Kalikasan party-list calls for comprehensive scientific investigation into the various factors that led to the massive loss of lives during Pablo, taking into account the resource-extractive activities that have significant impacts on the forest cover of Agusan. It is high time to identify and assess the different factors and problems that contribute to these repeated disasters.

—FRANCES QUIMPO,

secretary general, Kalikasan party-list,

kalikasanpartylist.pid@gmail.com

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