Small blessings

Despite its arrival being unseasonably late, Tropical Storm “Quinta” (international name: “Wukong”) left the Philippines relatively unscathed, leaving nine people dead and several others missing. Of course, every death is costly, and the floods in Iloilo have been awful, sending tens of thousands of Filipinos away from their homes, but Quinta could have done so much worse.

Thankfully, the storm left just as quickly as it came, and the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) was able to lower virtually all storm signals by Dec. 26.

Pagasa forecaster Bernie de Leon gave us all a bit of good news: “So far, the Pacific looks clear, and that is where storms usually form, so we believe Quinta may be the last storm of the year.”

That is welcome information for a country still reeling from the lashing it took from Typhoon “Pablo,” which ravaged Mindanao in early December, leaving more than 1,000 people dead and still some 800 missing. Entire villages had been erased in its path and now the homeless and grief-stricken survivors have hunkered down for a difficult, humble holiday season.

In Baganga, Davao Oriental, Dominga Daipan struggled to find something to celebrate as she and her family are now living in makeshift houses. “We have nothing left after Pablo pummeled our village. We know we are poor and we have suffered numerous crises in our lives, but this will really be a different Christmas. We do not even have rice on our table. I hope I can cook pansit for my children for  noche  buena,” Daipan said. “But we are trying really hard not to allow this disaster to spoil our celebration of the birth of Christ.”

Happily, the season remains one of giving. In far-flung New Bataan, Compostela Valley, one of the hardest-hit areas, volunteers came to spend Christmas with the displaced families, distributing much-needed relief goods and helping salve the wounds from the deadly wave of floods, mud and fallen tree trunks—a scene that was repeated in evacuation centers across Mindanao.

It has escaped no one’s notice that the storms have been particularly cruel as of late, as if each one were trying to upstage the other in extent of damage and number of casualties. Almost exactly a year prior to Pablo’s passage of destruction this year, Tropical Storm “Sendong” swooped down and viciously rearranged the Mindanao geography, causing some P1.3 billion in damage to agriculture and property and snuffing out another 1,000 lives. In 2009, “Ondoy” and “Pepeng” seemingly took turns pummeling the country with wind and water.

Something, it seems, is terribly wrong with our weather. According to a report by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), the Philippines, among all Asian countries, suffered the second-highest number of natural disasters during the first 10 months of the year—and that’s not including Pablo. The UNISDR report noted that the Philippines suffered through the massive monsoon flooding in August as well as the February earthquake in the Visayan region; all told, some 6.2 million Filipinos were affected by the various natural disasters. UNISDR Asia Pacific head Jerry Velasquez warned that there was no room for complacency: “We must still contend with the fact that risk is growing faster than wealth is being created. Exposure is on the rise and flooding represents a serious challenge to Asian cities as we have seen earlier this year in Beijing and Manila where these two cities were partly flooded in a couple of hours.”

This deadly development is not limited to the region. The United States, for instance, has endured the most unpredictable storm season since records were kept, with tornadoes and blizzards disrupting lives across the country up into the Christmas holiday. Even more worrisome, the European Space Agency has reported that a sizable ice shelf on the Antarctic peninsula has shrunk by a whopping 85 percent over the last 17 years. This is proof of global warming growing worse, a reality that too many world leaders refuse to see because of its implications.

All things considered, then, the weather’s wallop at the end of a disaster-filled year packed less punch than our recent experience led us to expect (or to fear), and for that alone we give thanks. But gratitude must go hand in hand with resolution; we must resolve to stamp out continuing practices such as illegal logging and other kinds of environmental plunder, as well as step up the fight against global warming.

In the meantime, let us be thankful for the small blessings, for the presence of beloved family despite challenging circumstances, and hope that the coming year will be kinder to us all.

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Tags: Blessings , Philippines , Quinta , storms , weather , Wukong

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