Are natural disasters ‘natural’? (2)
The study on climate fragility risks in Maguindanao that I have described last week used a mixed-method approach, looking at both quantitative and qualitative data to answer our basic research questions. Quantitative sources of information included a four-decade tracking of climate and rainfall data, vegetation health indices and land use changes, food price changes, as well as conflict incidence culled from data sets of the International Alert (through its Bangsamoro Conflict Monitoring System or BCMS), and the Uppsala Conflict Dataset Program). The time period for the climate, rainfall, and food price variations was from 1960 to 2020, while the period for tracking conflict incidents was from 2010 to 2020. Qualitative approaches included two focus group discussions in each of the four study areas, and key informant interviews of 10 individuals that included key actors in both barangay and municipal governments, and four regional officials in the Bangsamoro region.
Two other researchers completed our small team, aside from our team leader, Dr. Laurence Delina, and myself. They are Jon Gaviola, now pursuing his Ph.D. at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, and Homer Pagkalinawan, a geographic information system specialist. Delina, Gaviola, and Pagkalinawan collected and analyzed the quantitative data for the study, while I conducted the field-based qualitative data collection.
While limited in scope in terms of its coverage, our study came out with key findings that resonate with recent studies on climate change impacts in other parts of the world that are similarly situated as the four towns we covered. One key finding in these studies is that climate change is a “threat multiplier.” The devastating effects of extreme weather events like flooding and drought exacerbate existing debilities in local governance and long-standing structural weaknesses that have pushed many communities to abject poverty. These include the lack of capacities among local officials tasked to deal with managing disaster risk reduction and mitigation efforts in their localities, and the failure of local governments to implement fully important legislations that are designed to mitigate and even prevent adverse effects of both “natural” and human-induced disasters.
After collating the results of the focus group discussions and key informant interviews, we realized that many of the preventable impacts of extreme weather events are the result of human exploitation of the environment referred to as “anthropogenic actions.” These include human activities that impact the evolution of species like the removal of groundwater sources, removing vegetation, and chemical explosions, among others. Among the most common of these is the faulty way solid wastes are being managed by local government units. In one fieldwork area, one site in its barangay (located at the side of a barangay road) became the dumping site of the town’s garbage for more than 10 years. I learned that the local government has rented the site from the owner for a measly P5,000 a month, in exchange for using his land as the town’s garbage dump. The site is near a body of water, a pond that has been created after a long period of its being part of the catch basin of floodwaters in the Ligawasan. This small pond did not exist during my first exposure to doing fieldwork for my first graduate paper back in the late 1970s and early ’80s.
Another anthropogenic action that led to huge devastation of communities at the foothills of Mt. Minandar, in Datu Odin Sinsuat municipality, was the gravel quarrying in it. Gravel and other rocks were mined in the mountain for local business people who have built some coastal resorts in Barangay Kusiong, just near where Minandar is located. On Oct. 29, 2022, strong winds and floodwaters brought by Typhoon “Paeng” caused the gushing of not only floodwaters but also of huge rocks from the now fragile and overexploited Mt. Minandar, submerging a community of indigenous peoples in the area, causing the deaths of more than 50 people, and more than 10 missing up to now.
These findings tell us that natural disasters are devastating not because they are manifestations of acts of nature but largely because of rapacious human interventions, the outcomes of crass materialistic greed.
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