The rain with no name
ASIA SERIES : PART 2
The sky was dark, the winds howled like wild beasts and the rains ripped through the usually peaceful mornings that gray Tuesday morning of 7 August, 2012.
The government’s weather bureau had often identified rains and typhoons with their international and local names but the monsoon rains that struck that fateful Tuesday morning had no name at all. The agency didn’t need a name to identify the weather disturbance. Flood waters rose and the damage grew larger by the minute – tattered homes in low-lying areas disappeared in filth and mud as the water level rose in Manila and other parts of the country.
This is the Philippines, a country of 94 million people, a third of whom live below the poverty line. Monsoon rains, storms and typhoons come almost daily from June to September but in recent months, the floods have become worse.
The Philippine finance secretary called it a setback to economic development.
“We have one good year and a flood comes. It sets us back,” finance secretary Cesar Purisima said.
He proposes a climate change insurance fund wherein all countries in the Asian region would contribute, depending on their carbon footprints. A country experiencing a natural calamity may tap into the fund.
In Marikina City, in the eastern part of Metropolitan Manila, people ravaged the few belongings they had left as they rushed to save their lives while the river’s water level rose incessantly. The rains struck Monday night, on 6 August this year, and lasted for three more days but the strongest impact was felt on 7 August.
Men, women and children wasted no time as they fled to public schools-turned-evacuation centres.
It’s a different story in these makeshift shelters, as evacuees have to endure the cramped space and the little food coming from donors. Some families evacuated to makeshift camps such as public schools and stayed there for three more weeks after the incident. Some have moved to higher grounds but are still squatting on borrowed land.
“But we have no choice. We can’t stay in our homes. This has always been the case,” said Maria, 32, a resident who lives by the Marikina River. The only thing that could be seen of her house that Tuesday was the rust-covered roof.
According to the government’s disaster response office, the death toll from the monsoon rains neared 100. The estimated cost of damage is P2bn (roughly US $480m).
Naderev Sano, the country’s climate change commissioner, said disasters such as these may only be prevented with enough cooperation between the local government, the national government, and the people themselves.
“There is no single solution to this complex challenge,” he said. “It will be a tapestry of solutions. With increasing risk to disasters and climate impacts accelerating, the Philippines needs to get its act together and treat this challenge as if it is going to war. After all, more people will suffer because of climate change and associated disasters more than from bullets and guns. The capacity of local government units and communities must be enhanced to enable them to plan and implement climate-resilience measures on the ground.”
He also said the country must build its knowledge of the enemy and gain foresight on what impact climate change will have on every aspect of our society. Confronting climate change means addressing root causes. It means enhancing adaptive capacity.
“It means addressing poverty and vulnerability. It is about promoting environmental sustainability. It is about avoiding the unmanageable and managing the unavoidable,” he said.
Indeed, long-term solutions are needed for the fight against climate change. This means that the government must act not just when disaster strikes but through preventive measures such as promoting environmental awareness.
In Metro Manila, the national capital region, many local government units have banned or regulated the use of plastics in groceries and other merchandise. This is just one of the basic measures that may be undertaken.
All photos by Iris Gonzales.