You may remember the terrible tragedy before Christmas in the South of the Phillipines – due to the Tropical Storm Washi (or Sendong as it is known in the Phillipines). The Death Toll has reached nearly 1500 now. However the news has moved on – even here in the Phillipines there has been a landslide which has killed 30 and that is dominating the news now.
Why did so many people have to die?
The excellent ESSC (Environmental Science for Social Change) a Jesuit research institute has already produced a report – as well as the Manila Observatory and the Ateneo Physics Departments. But as always it seems to be falling on deaf ears – political short termism and corruption seem to prevent progress.
Anyway the main points that even I can understand so far -
- Sendong was accurately downgraded to a tropical storm (not a typhoon) – due to windspeed measurements, this might have induced a false sense of security
- However the rainfall was categorised as extreme – 180mm in 24hrs (monthly average is 120mms according to report from Manila Observatory)
- So the flooding came not from the sea – but from the water running off the mountains – the other direction
- Much of the flooding was exacerbated by illegal logging operations that has degraded the environment (greed)
- Information and warnings about Sendong were available three days before but there was no strategic response – which indicated a failure at both local and national political level (corruption)
This is a combination of ‘natural evil’ and ‘moral evil’. But before we loose touch with what this actually equates to - here is an incredible video of children being rescued – if you have the time please watch it. This shows the results of a combination of these ‘evils’ – as always it is the poor that suffer the most :
So what is the answer? I have been very impressed by the response of the Phillipino Jesuits. In the affected areas of Cagayan de Oro – the local Bishop, High School and Universities are all in the care of the Jesuits. The Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro has been at the forefront of the relief effort. They have even offered 5 hectares of land to help relocate victims (click here) . One of Fr Pedro Walpole‘s strategies with the ESSC is to help build up disaster resilience, and move beyond relief – to building up a strategic capacity to respond. With the President of the University Fr Bobby Yap they have suggested four ways forward – this is taken from their commentary.
“Emergency preparedness. A warning system on every typhoon in every area of potential risk must be put in place, and not just announced. A day or night evacuation strategy must carefully lay out the locations, paths and methods to reach safe areas for evacuation and temporary settlement.
Relocation and land allocation. A critical review and implementation of land allocation and securing access are vitally needed to assist city and local governments in identifying safe lands for settlements and the procedures for acquisition. A prioritized relocation plan for every city and barangay that sets accomplishments is imperative. This plan should not be simply mitigation activities, like developing and rebuilding infrastructure that will not withstand the next disaster. A sustainable relocation must consider people’s livelihood accessibility so that livelihood is sustained and risks are minimized.
Landscape and waterscape planning and development. An open, transparent planning process for infrastructure development is crucial with broad participation of key people, especially in critical areas of river banks, slopes and floodplains.
Floodplain management. To re-establish natural flood areas, we need to develop a floodplain management program and regulations that strictly enforce restrictions and controls in: the alteration of natural floodplains, stream channels, and natural protective barriers that channel floodwaters; developments that increase flood damage; and construction of flood barriers that unnaturally divert floodwaters and increase flood hazards in other areas.
We need a society that can value life and change its systems of relations and responsibilities to meet new basic needs. Transformative learning has to become a new adult literacy that moves to action beyondbayanihan, expanding this Filipino value and infusing an informed pro-activeness that changes our landscape for the good of all. This includes serious planning for a sustainable future that integrates the knowledge of the disaster potential and local realities. “
But are the politicians listening? A column written by another Jesuit, Fr Tony La Vina in a popular Manila paper click here ceratinly puts pressure on the highest political levels. Click here to read it and a powerful personal account of survivors.
So now the relief effort is winding down – rehabilitation and resettlement efforts kick in – as well as trauma counselling. The excellent relief operation co-0rdinated by the Jesuit University – Click Here – are now training counselors and realising suicide risk- indicators. For those so short-sighted to want to close Religious Institutions working in Education- they should see all this as a lesson in building up the common good. For the rest of us – lets keep praying for those affected