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When it rains, it pours

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - November 18, 2020 - 12:00am

The year 2020 really appears to be the gift that just keeps on giving. From the volcanic ash fall at the start of the year to the current effects of La Niña and super typhoons, we can’t seem to catch a break. If all of that wasn’t hard enough, we also have to contend with a global health pandemic and quickly rising cases of COVID-19.

We aren’t anywhere near out of the woods when it comes to the spread of COVID-19 cases in the country and with the numbers rising and the fear of catching the disease high on everyone’s mind, the thought of jampacked evacuation centers are, indeed, a terrifying thought. This was actually one of the reasons that some people didn’t want to evacuate early and held on until the last possible second.

It’s understandable. After all, wet, cold, tired people reeling from the impact of the storm and all put together is the recipe for a super spreader event. However, due to the strength and relentlessness of Typhoon Ulysses, so many of our countrymen had no choice but to flee from their homes and take refuge at an evacuation center with hundreds of other stranded families, including infants and the elderly and those most at risk for COVID-19.

It really is not letting up. COVID-19 is just one of many concerns brought about by the typhoon. Following torrential flooding in Marikina, there is also the risk of several feet of mud covering roads, homes, and more. Residents will be spending their time trying to salvage homes and belongings if possible.

In Cagayan Valley, one of the worst-hit spots post-Ulysses, people are still being recovered and the extent of the damage can’t even be accounted for yet. Aerial images of the cities and towns are heartbreaking and families scrambled to rooftops calling for help, not knowing when it would come. It all brought back painful memories of Typhoon Yolanda several years ago.

But it’s so much more complicated now because of the virus. People can’t just run out to help one another. Serious issues with virus transmission are important considerations for all operations as thousands of displaced Filipinos remain huddled in evacuation centers. Coronavirus isn’t the only health concern for our stranded brothers and sisters. With floodwaters contaminating tap water there are several health issues that could potentially arise.

At this point, recovery seems like an extremely daunting task. While Typhoon Rolly devastated several provinces, it spared some parts of the country when it weakened. Ulysses did not do the same. What’s worse, La Niña is still in effect and according to experts, we are looking at another three to four typhoons before the end of the year. I can only pray that these are not as strong as their predecessors, or that they change course and miss us completely.

There are many things that we have to do at this point. The top priority should be finding the missing. Collecting and donating relief goods is equally important to help get families back on their feet and provide them with the essentials they need to make it through each day. These essentials have expanded since the last time donations were asked for. Now, among the staples like food, water, clothes, and blankets, are sanitation essentials like face masks, alcohol, vitamins, and medicine.

Helping one another and supporting donation drives is something that we can all do and something we should all do. It’s important for everyone to help in whatever way they can. There is no donation too small. However, we need to go beyond the usual motions this time. This time, how we normally react in the wake of a typhoon is just not going to cut it.

I won’t discount improvements that have been made to disaster preparedness, but I think we can all agree that we are not doing enough. Typhoons in the Philippines are nothing new and we can’t keep getting blown off our feet this way. Further investment and enhancements have to be made to natural disaster relief so that the agencies that need to provide help and support during calamities are better funded and equipped to do so.

But that is also not enough. It’s time to stop pretending that climate crisis and environmental degradation are not huge contributing factors to the strength of current storms and the devastation they cause.

There is a strong scientific consensus that greenhouse gas emissions are causing rapid climate change and this contributes to stronger storms because of higher sea surface temperatures that remove the natural buffer on typhoon strength which happens when cold water comes up from the ocean’s surface. This makes typhoons carry more moisture, move faster, and be much more dangerous.

Couple rising temperatures with environmental degradation and it’s a recipe for disaster. Illegal logging and irresponsible agriculture have stripped our lands of trees that help soak up and regulate water release. Weakening our soil prevents it from helping provide any type of buffer for rising waters and flash floods.

There are several storms still coming, not just this year, but in the coming years. If we don’t help address the problem on every front possible, we’ll continue to have major disasters and loss of life and property. Filipinos are resilient. We’ve already proven that time and time again. It’s time to stop relying on resiliency and focus instead on accountability. We all need to demand change and be accountable to make the changes that will help protect us all.

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