Tag Archive: Typhoons


Storms & Solidarity

AMDG

Two years ago – as part of my  ‘tertianship’ (last year of Jesuit formation) in the Philippines, I lived for a few weeks in Navotas, one of the shanty towns in Manila.  Some of the families lived in very simple houses on stilts in Manila Bay.  We arrived during the aftermath of a strong typhoon.  Two things struck me, firstly the incredible resilience the people had in the face of these frequent storms.  Secondly, because they had so little – how quickly they were able to rebuild their lives.   We made a small video to appeal for help.

I spent a wonderful 6 month in the Philippines, fell in love with country and the people. It was also fascinating to hear how it was the Jesuits who were the first to track typhoons in Asia from the Manila Observatory (click here to read more about that).  It is very sad to hear the effects of the recent Typhoon. In a county which seems sadly used to frequent disasters, this one is at a higher level. When I was there –  I was very impressed by how the network of Jesuit education institutions coordinated disaster relief  (click here).  So when the Jesuits received a letter from the Provincial  requesting help today – I thought I would it worth posting his letter here. You have to click on the link to open the PDF.

Philippines Appeal

Link to donate online  Indicate ‘for the Philippines Appeal’ in text box

AMDG

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 -

  1. Sendong was accurately downgraded to a tropical storm (not a typhoon) – due to windspeed measurements, this might have induced a false sense of security
  2. However the rainfall was categorised as extreme – 180mm in 24hrs (monthly average is 120mms according to report from Manila Observatory)
  3. So the flooding came not from the sea – but from the water running off the mountains – the other direction
  4. Much of the flooding was exacerbated by illegal logging operations that has degraded the environment (greed)
  5. 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

Living on stilts!

AMDG

I have just arrived back from a very special 10 days of  ‘Phillipino Life Experience‘  living with two families in Navotas – which is effectively a shanty town in the North of Manila. As in many shanty areas – space is a real premium, so many houses and even ‘streets’ are built out into Manila Bay – with families and whole neighbourhoods precariously surviving on bamboo stilts. It has been an unforgettable experience of community, hospitality and new friendship. A very special place.  Many people surviving on very little – but with a great joy and simplicity, sharing and singing.  As I let the experience sink in, I will share some of my stories on this blog over the next few days.  It is truly one of the great graces of the priesthood to be received into the heart of a community like this, and it was an honour to be able to celebrate mass with them, and join in their vigils and processions. Something I intend to continue to do whilst I am in Manila.

In Navotas - Space is at a premium!

The four pillars of this community seem to be  - A) their faith, particularly their devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, B) the family (often very extended!), C) Karaoke – every other family has a karaoke set, and yet more proof of the universal popularity of the Beatles (and perhaps more suprisingly also the Bee Gees and the Carpenters!) and D)  TV! Soap operas and game shows are staple here.

Our stay was facilitated by a charity called PPF – run by lay people, who have been alongside the community for 20 years. Run by lay people – with a close connection with the Jesuits, they help to organise, running nurseries, housing schemes, scholarship schemes, bible sharing groups ( the dynamos of the community).  I will be designing a website for them over the next few days. An impressive outfit with UN observer status – even though relatively very small.

The community here face many threats – forced eviction, poor sanitation, fires that are rumoured to be started by hostile political and commercial entities, and an incredible vulnerability to the challenging tropical climate and typhoon season. 2000 families are still in emergency evacuation facilities after the recent typhoon Nesat/Pedring. In the face of all this they are incredibly resilient and never give up hope. As one of them said to me – when you do not have much it is easy to rebuild and start again.  Below is a video showing some of that spirit in the face of these problems.

Half way through the clip the children ask me to dance ‘Kendeng Kendeng’ from a popular game show – hence the smiles and laughter! This seems incongruous in the face of such difficulties but that is the infectious spirit of the place!

You can donate directly through the bank details on the previous post.

Living with the Fishermen

I spent some of the dying days of August with the fisherman of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides.  Looking after a couple of parishes up there I always jump at the chance of going out in boats with some of the parishoners.  So I was delighted to hear that the next stage of our experience here will be living with Families in the ‘fishing capital of the Phillipines – Navotas’.  I think it may be quite a different experience to that of the Outer Hebrides.  Navotas is one of the cities that comprises Metro Manila – however unlike the wild beauty and space of South Uist, here there are over 250,000 people living in an area of less than 5 square miles!    Many families, escaping the violence at the end of the Marcos Regime came and settled here, sometimes referred to as ‘squatters’, they live very precarious lives, many of them building houses in stilts out in the sea.  Overpopulation and Pollution are serious problems in this part of Manila.

The Jesuits have been involved with this community through a foundation called the PPF who run housing, health and education projects.  Through these links, we have been invited to live with the families, to share a bit of their lives, for the next couple of weeks.  Because of its location (see the map) – Navotas has been hit very hard by the recent typhoon and the resulting storm surges. Over 100 of the families that we have connections with have lost them homes – simply swept away. The local government of Navotas has placed the city under state of calamity after thousands of residents were evacuated from their homes due to flooding.  Because of this, I was a bit anxious about arriving at such a difficult time – but we have been told that it is a great honour for these families to have priests staying with them,  so this has put my mind to rest.  Also because they have so little – it is easy to rebuild and start again, there is great resiliences (see my previous blog).  We are also lucky that because of our long-standing connections John and Myself (the two white westerners) will be quite safe – living in an area where tourists would never dare to go, the people know we are Jesuits.  That is one of the great privileges of being a priest – the access and trust that people still offer us all over the world.  Why are we doing this – it is not some sort of ‘disaster tourism’, but a privileged chance to learn from the challenges and the joys of the people of Navotas.

So I will be off-blog for 9-10 days. Thankyou for all your interest so far – I started this primarily for my ex-students back in the UK, who were sending me messages asking me for stories from the Phillipines, but the interest has been much wider than just the lads fom St Ignatius College.

Because of the damage down in Navotas – the families are temporarily being housed and looked after by the government in emergency evacuation centers.  We are not sure how long that support will last.  As they have lost everything – our tertian master is collecting money, and food, clothes and blankets so that we can step in and support them when the emergency contigency plans come to an end.  If you would like to help – and a small amount of money will go a far way.  You can send some money to the tertian account -

Helping to clean up after the floods

  • Name of the bank: BANK OF THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS
  • Branch: LOYOLA/KATIPUNAN
  • Account name: ROGER CHAMPOUX and/or KANG YUP JUNG
  • Account number: 3084-0568-89
  • Bank’s swift code: BOPIPHMM
If you can send a donation please Mark it with – NAVOTAS.  When we return from this experience I will be able to give you a first hand account of life in Navotas and the situation after typhoon Nesta.

The Clean Up Begins

They say that you only see somebody’s real character when they are really up against it.  This is also true of  a group of people,  The British often talk about the Blitz Spirit in the dark months of 1940-41 when the Germans bombed London (and many other cities) for 76 nights consecutively .

Well a relative newcomer like myself cannot help but be impressed with the people of Manila. This morning, the death toll has risen to 20 (according to USA Today and the Manila Informer) and my companions have told me the number will keep rising, with some fatalities never to be reported.  In spite of this, everyone just seems to pick themselves up and get on with life.  Standing on the roof at 7 this morning, looking Southwesterly over a large chunk of MetroManila, you could hear a symphony of scraping noises,  a myriad of people with brushes and pans out on the streets cleaning away leaves, branches and the various detritus that Pedring had dumped.  Schools are open again, the motorised tricycles swarming about looking for passengers and the horn-blowing jeepneys asserting themselves on the city streets that were abandoned yesterday.

Some people claim that this was the worst typhoon for 14 years – others point towards typhoon Ondoy a couple of years ago, when the local river the Marikani rose to 23ms breaking its banks and flooding the low lying shanty settlementswere.  There were many local casualties as the waters rose .  Last night – with much of the city suffering a blackout – I lay in bed listening to the torrential rain, feeling absolutely powerless.  We had the diesel generator running most of the night, due to the infirmary three floors below.  This allowed you sporadically to monitor the river levels via twitter and the announcements of MMDA – Manilas Development Authority.    26,000 people were moved to evacuation centers when the river rose to 19m at about 8pm.   It carried on rising but much more slowly, so it was a relief to follow the announcements on Twitter of the flood waters beginning to subside around 3am ish.  In spite of the power cuts and phones being down it was interesting to see how much you could monitor what was going on through social media – check this very interesting blog for an in-depth account.

So to finish with a Philipino proverb in Tagalog – after witnessing todays heroic and quiet resolve : 

Matibay ang Walis palibhasa’y magkabigkis   A broom is sturdy because its strands are  tightly bound

and if you object to me quoting Tagalog (which I don’t know how to speak!)…. then remember He who does not love the national language is worse than a smelly fish!!!

Appeal from the Red Cross in the Phillipines  http://www.redcross.org.ph/donatenow

Typhoon Nesat / Pedring

 It is the first time I have had twigs, leaves and branches in the shower with me in the morning, although I know for many others it is a lot worse. Now the wind seems to have calmed down now in Manila, the rain continues, Typhoon Nesat paid us a close visit today. Even though it landed 200kms north of us – Manila was still put under storm signal two, with 9 more unfortunate areas in the Phillipines under signal three.  As you can see from the image Nesats reach is huge – extending 100′s of miles. Here in Manila we have been hit by its flailing arms – almost continuous torrential rain and very strong gusts of winds.  Halfway through this mornings meeting with my fellow Jesuits one of the largest trees here in the Loyola House of Studies was just uprooted – falling conveniently into the gap between the chapel and our bedrooms (see the video clip below). If thats what it can do from over 200kms away, God knows the damage it is causing near the centre.  According the font of all knowledge, Wikipedia, there has already been $2.4billion damage this Typhoon season.

I’m told that Typhoon season can last from April – November with sometimes up to 20 being recorded, i,e those that have been upgraded from tropical storms. Winds over 100km per hour raises a storms status to a typhoon – and above 200km per hour to a super-typhoon.  We were perilously close to that but as you can see from the tracking image below the windspeed seems to have come down a bit when it hit land this morning.  The developing storm has been tracked since the end of last week – its international name is Nesat, but once it entered the Phillipines Area of Responsibility (about 400kms off coast) it was given the local name Pedring.

Typhoon2000.com is an excellent site for tracking events

So apart from the drama of the tree fall, and a sleepless night we are all ok. However over 100,000 were evacuated from Central Luzon, and as I write this Pedring is cutting a swathe through some of the most fertile farming areas just before harvest time. The other concern here in Manila are the rivers – two years ago our local river burst its banks and killed 60people from the shantys.  Referred to as squatters – the rubbish that is left in the drainage channels generally exacerbates any flooding – and as always it is the poorest who have the least protection.  I pray that they may be kept safe.

Below is a small clip taken from the roof here at ‘Loyola Heights’  to give you a flavour of the amount of rain and some of the milder gusts of winds (i.e when it was safe to film). Watching the force of the wind – I can see now why Bamboo is a good metaphor for being centered and flexible. Watching the huge Bamboo plants sway gracefully in the wind was mesmerising – whilst the biggest and stiffest tree was just snapped over in an instant.  Anyway when the wind settles I am going off to help with the clear up – and I hope there is no greater need down by the river.

 

#Update 4.30pm (9.30GMT) – Marikina River in Manila reaches critical level at 18 meters, forced evacuation in effect. Please pray for the people most affected. If needed Jesuits here will organise blankets and food later on for those who need help.

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