A somber Christmas
Nothing is more dangerous than an off-season typhoon. 70 years ago, December of 1951, Typhoon Amy battered the Visayas and left after killing more than 500 Filipinos. It reached the equivalent of a category 4 cyclone, about the same strength as Typhoon Odette. It was as though Typhoon Odette was a continuation of Typhoon Amy, 70 years later. Typhoon Amy left the Philippines around December 17, and Typhoon Odette hit around December 17.
Is that a coincidence? Of course not. That is only a coincidence to the lazy, to the unthinking, anti-science and unplanning mind. Which, apparently, means most of us Filipinos including the generations before us. Because if anyone wishes to simply Google the history of typhoons in the Philippines, it did not begin and end with Typhoon Yolanda. The history dates back centuries that can still be documented today and promises to be worse in the future.
When Typhoon Amy hit the Visayas, and Bacolod City specifically, it blew the entire roof over our house and forced two families living there to scramble for new residences after. Thank goodness, it was only a rented house, and more fortunately, none of the family was harmed. I was a very young boy then and the experience taught me a lesson that I can never forget – those off-season typhoons are the worst.
Considering the destruction of off-season typhoons and the regularity of the usual typhoons in the June to September period, I am saddened by the abject lack of preparation that we as a people, and the national government, are quite guilty of. A slight but most crucial amendment, though, because I must exempt most Filipinos from that guilt. Poor Filipino families have little or no say, not in the period when we already began experiencing national governance from Spain to the present moment.
I understand that the Philippines has never reached the status of a developed country. The population has always been deemed poor by international economic standards, except for maybe the top 1% and those who serve them directly in their businesses, maybe another 9% to make Classes A, B, C the top 10%. I will have to pin the responsibility of unpreparedness on that 10% and the whole government, Local and national.
It is not as though nothing had been done all this time. There is the present NDRRMC which is the latest form of one agency that began in the Commonwealth period. From the beginning, it was always governed by a set of officials heading other agencies like the military and social services. It continues to be that way but in an expanded manner, the National Disaster Risk Reduction & Management Council, with almost all major departments represented. There are even moves in Congress to create a separate Department for it.
So, yes, there have been efforts to rationalize a coordinated effort for preparation and actual rescue and relief protocol. Still, considering its vital role, considering the tens of thousands of lives lost and millions of families affected over the last 70 years, what has been done is a drop in the bucket, almost reactionary still in nature. There is an urgent need for a total development plan focused on the most vulnerable provinces and municipalities – and not just training sessions as to where to run and take shelter when a typhoon hits. We must ensure adequate evacuation centers that are typhoon proof themselves and not just school buildings that themselves are quite vulnerable.
Shelter. We cannot build our infrastructure and scrimp on the quality because that means building below typhoon strength – which is a waste of money and can cause even more deaths and destruction. Let us imagine that we are in a war zone. Every typhoon-prone barangay should have the equivalent of an air raid shelter, or bigger, stronger buildings to serve clusters of barangays.
Water. Every disaster area I have seen, whether being physically present or reports I read, demands drinking water. Why? Deep wells and filter systems should, by now, be a universal setup in barangays visited by typhoons, floods, and landslides. Without water, people die. With only little water available, people will easily get sick. We do not prepare by stocking bottled water; we prepare by developing small water sources that can be filtered for safe consumption.
Food. This emphasizes the need for community food banks. Which means both food and secure storage. When there are no typhoons, these food banks can be used as active centers for local produce like vegetables, and where rice and fish can also be traded. Typhoons and other disaster-causing events should be forcing us to build productive capacity in strategic areas. The value of small farmers and fisherfolks will be elevated when we depend on them for our lives.
Just in my lifetime, it is already 70 years I carry under my belt. Retrievable history will show us disastrous events that have afflicted us for centuries, from volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and typhoons bringing floods and landslides. It does not seem to take geniuses in both the public and private sector to understand the critical nature of being sensitive to nature and considerate to our own lives. Yet, when the storm passes, we go on almost oblivious to the disaster recently experienced.
Building capacity to withstand typhoons is not a financial challenge, not an engineering challenge. It is a challenge of leadership, whether one has the heart and the ill to break this chain of suffering once and for all. The funding and the programs follow where the heart and the will of leadership is. The main beneficiaries are the poor as they are the ones who get killed and suffer the most. Who truly cares for them?
Our hearts are sensitive at this moment because it is Christmas with tears and pain around us. Truly, it is time to be Christian in spirit and understanding – beyond caroling and the Christmas tree.
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