Typhoons and floodings
The Philippines very recently suffered extreme flooding and other destructions caused by four strong typhoons that came successively a few days apart. The last two typhoons caused much destruction in property, infrastructures and agriculture, particularly in the Bicol area in the case of Typhoon Rolly, the earlier one, and particularly in some parts of Metro Manila, Cagayan and Isabela in the case of the most recent typhoon.
Typhoon Ulysses is something else. It poured quite 356 millimeters of rain that caused widespread flooding in most areas of Luzon. As a result, a large number of citizens have been driven away from their homes at the middle of the night.
When they subsequently return, they have to fix and clean their houses, a lot of which were flooded up to the second floor and the rooftops, and much other debris. Moreover, in many areas, the flood is taking a long time to subside and, therefore, causing continuing suffering and disruption in the lives of those citizens who are affected.
Ben Punongbayan, Chairman and Founder of the Buklod National Movement, pointed out that the widespread flooding, enormous losses, chaos and suffering necessarily aroused anger and finger pointing towards the government. And rightly so.
There are two major areas of government ineffectiveness, said Punongbayan. One is the practically non-existent mitigation measures of the destructive effects of the perennial typhoons and the second is insufficient warning and mobilization to get the citizens well prepared and out of the most dangerous areas.
The Philippines is visited by more than a score of typhoons every year. One would expect that we are now experts in dealing with the mitigation of the deaths, destruction, chaos and suffering that they inflict.
Unfortunately, over the so many long years, the visible things that citizens see after each typhoon—especially the big ones—are the counting of the dead and estimating of the value of the destruction.
What are missing and not felt are the measures that could have substantially reduced the number of deaths and the extent of the destruction and chaos.
Punongbayan said it has been said that the first line of defense against flash floods and landslides are the forests. “But over the years, we have not taken good care of our forests and illegal logging has been a continuing and persistent menace. As a result, the people are practically naked and defenseless when the typhoons come and they come every year over a period of six months, without exception.”
According to an earlier published data, the Philippine Forest Management Bureau indicated that the Philippines had a forest cover of 70% out of the total land area of 30 million hectares in 1900; this cover had dramatically gone down to 22% in 2007.
In an earlier report, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that the Philippines lost an average of about 54,700 hectares of forest per year from 1990 to 2010.
In a recent FAO report, in 2020, the forest area has increased by about 34,900 hectares per year from 2011 to 2015, resulting in a forest cover in 2015 of 23.4%, which is still very low but at least the net losses had been halted.
It is probably for this reason that a National Greening Program was established in 2011 to cover the period 2011 to 2016. This Program was somewhat successful.
The Program, renamed Enhanced National Greening Program, has been renewed up to 2028.
“Obviously, the country needs to deliberately accelerate the increase in our forest area to effectively mitigate the destructive effects of the perennial typhoons,” said Punongbayan.
In a news report in 2018, it was reported that a Haribon Foundation representative, Thaddeuz Martinez, estimated that the country needs at least a 54% forest cover. We have a very long way to go, indeed.
Illegal logging still persists. That must be stopped. If the government is successful in this regard, the forest area would show a higher net increase and the forest would remain dense.
Such improvements will additionally help in mitigating the extent of floods and landslides and their destructive effects.
There is another important aspect in dealing with these perennial disasters – organizing rapid response system before and after each natural disaster.
Buklod also said the government must establish a dedicated organization for this purpose and equip the first responders adequately (with sufficient number of helicopters, boats, etc.).
Currently, the responders are being drawn from several sources, primarily the police and the military and volunteer organizations. “That kind of ad hoc organization will never be effective for obvious reasons,” said Punongbayan.
A dedicated responder organization can study the vulnerability of the areas more likely to be traversed by the typhoons and keep record of their population; designate alternative temporary relocation sites (rather than using school buildings that get messed up and prevent school children to resume school); fabricate and store portable housing; contract before each typhoon season private entities to put up the portable housing and portable toilets in the relocation areas, and to supply adequate food and water and other necessities to the relocation areas and elsewhere.
In this organised manner, the responder organization can provide more effective warning and, if necessary, to get the likely affected population transferred to the nearest designated relocation site before the typhoon hits land.
After the typhoon, the responder organization can provide the necessary assistance to the affected citizens in a timely and orderly manner.
The best choice for this response organization is the Fire department whose people are not busy if there is no fire. Of course, it has to be properly reorganized and expanded as the overall disaster response organization for the entire country. If necessary, they may draw manpower and equipment from the police and the military. But the responder organization will have to be in charge.
We have innumerable and long experiences in the havoc and chaos brought by natural disasters and there is no reason why our government cannot learn from these experiences and take serious actions to successfully mitigate the loss of lives, destructions, chaos and suffering, Punongbayan concluded.