A Dark Christmas | Investigator’s opinion
Nothing is more dangerous than an off-season typhoon. 70 years ago, in December 1951, Typhoon Amy hit the Visayas and left after killing more than 500 Filipinos. It hit the equivalent of a Category 4 cyclone, roughly the same force as Typhoon Odette. It was as if Typhoon Odette was a continuation of Typhoon Amy, 70 years later. Typhoon Amy left the Philippines around December 17 and Typhoon Odette struck around December 17.
Is it a coincidence? Of course not. This is just a coincidence for the lazy, the thoughtless, anti-science and unplanned mind. Which, apparently, means most of us Filipinos, including the generations before us. Because if anyone just wants to google the history of typhoons in the Philippines, it didn’t start and ended with Typhoon Yolanda. The story goes back centuries which can still be documented today and promises to be worse in the future.
When Typhoon Amy hit the Visayas, and the town of Bacolod in particular, it blew up the entire roof of our house and forced two families who lived there to look for new homes afterward. Thank goodness it was just a rented house, and luckily no family member was hurt. I was a very young boy then and experience taught me a lesson I will never forget: these out of season typhoons are the worst.
Considering the destruction of the typhoons out of season and the regularity of the usual typhoons from June to September, I am saddened by the abject lack of preparation of which we, as the people, and the national government, are quite guilty. A small but crucial amendment, however, as I have to exempt most Filipinos from this guilt. Poor Filipino families have little to no say in, not in the period where we have already started experimenting with Spain’s national governance today.
I understand that the Philippines has never achieved developed country status. The population has always been considered poor by international economic standards, with the exception of maybe the richest 1% and those who serve them directly in their businesses, maybe another 9% to make Class A, B, C the richest 10%. I will have to blame the unpreparedness on that 10% and all of government, local and national.
It’s not like nothing has been done all this time. There is the current NDRRMC which is the latest form of an agency that started in the Commonwealth period. From the start, it has always been governed by a body of civil servants at the head of other agencies such as the army and social services. This is still the case, but in an enlarged way, the National Council for Disaster Risk Reduction and Management, with almost all major departments represented. There are even movements in Congress to create a separate department for this.
So, yes, there have been efforts to streamline a coordinated effort for preparedness and the actual rescue and relief protocol. Yet given its vital role, given the tens of thousands of lives lost and millions of families affected over the past 70 years, what has been done is a drop in the bucket, almost still reactionary in nature. There is an urgent need for a comprehensive development plan focused on the most vulnerable provinces and municipalities – and not just training sessions on where to run and take shelter in the event of a typhoon. We need to ensure adequate evacuation centers which are themselves typhoon proof and not just school buildings which are themselves quite vulnerable.
Shelter. We cannot build our infrastructure and skimp on quality because that means building below the force of typhoons – which is a waste of money and can cause even more death and destruction. Imagine that we are in a war zone. Each typhoon-prone barangay should have the equivalent of an air raid shelter, or larger, stronger buildings to serve groups of barangays.
The water. Every disaster area I have seen, whether physically present or reading reports, needs clean water. Why? Deep wells and filtration systems are now expected to be a universal installation in barangays visited by typhoons, floods and landslides. Without water, people die. With only little water available, people will get sick easily. We do not prepare by storing bottled water; we are preparing ourselves by developing small sources of water that can be filtered for safe consumption.
Food. This emphasizes the need for community food banks. Which means both food and safe storage. When there are no typhoons, these food banks can be used as active hubs for local products like vegetables, and where rice and fish can also be marketed. Typhoons and other catastrophic events should force us to strengthen our production capacities in strategic areas. The value of small farmers and fishermen will increase when we depend on them for our livelihood.
In my lifetime alone, I’ve been doing it for 70 years. The recoverable history will show us disastrous events that have plagued us for centuries, from volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and typhoons leading to floods and landslides. It doesn’t seem like it takes geniuses from both the public and private sectors to understand the critical nature of being sensitive to nature and mindful of our own lives. Yet when the storm passes, we continue to be almost oblivious to the disaster recently experienced.
Building capacity to withstand typhoons is not a financial challenge, nor a technical challenge. It is a leadership challenge, that one has the heart and the evil to break this chain of suffering once and for all. Funding and programs follow where the heart and will of leadership is. The main beneficiaries are the poor because they are the ones who are killed and who suffer the most. Who really cares about them?
Our hearts are tender right now as it is Christmas with tears and pain all around us. Truly, it is time to be a Christian in spirit and understanding – beyond the Christmas carols and the Christmas tree.
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