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EDITORIAL - Planning for the long term

() - October 4, 2009 - 12:00am

From November to early December 2004, four typhoons struck in close succession, dumping an unusual amount of rainfall for several days in the provinces of Aurora and Quezon. By the time the weather disturbances subsided, about 1,700 were dead. The magnitude of the disaster prompted the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration to ask the government for Doppler radars, at a cost of P100 million each, which could accurately predict the amount of rainfall and provide sufficient warning to communities in areas prone to severe flooding.

PAGASA waited… and waited. In February 2006, 10 days of incessant rains and a minor earthquake loosened the cliff face of a mountain in Southern Leyte. Tons of mud and debris were unleashed in a horrific avalanche that buried the village of Guinsaugon in the town of St. Bernard, leaving more than 1,100 people dead.

In September of the same year, it was Metro Manila’s turn to be devastated, this time by super typhoon Milenyo. Authorities were still counting the fatalities, which reached about 200, when days of heavy rains triggered a mudslide in Albay in December. The death toll in Guinobatan reached over 700. Still no Doppler radar for PAGASA.

Now authorities are scrambling to deal with the devastation from typhoon Ondoy even as Pepeng strikes. With no way of accurately predicting the amount of rainfall, the government resorted to “preemptive” measures, evacuating several communities around Laguna de Bay and other flood-prone areas. The Doppler radar that can cover Metro Manila, PAGASA said, is expected in December at the earliest.

Weather forecasters are not the only ones lamenting slow action on disaster-mitigating responses. Sen. Loren Legarda has also been pushing for years for geo-hazard mapping to identify areas nationwide that are vulnerable to natural disasters — those that regularly serve as welcome mats for typhoons, or lie near earthquake faults, or are most prone to severe floods.

Other experts have also warned for years that filling natural water drainage systems and catchments without giving rainfall alternative paths to Manila Bay and Laguna de Bay would aggravate flooding in Metro Manila, where many areas are already sinking slowly but steadily into the sea. The severe floods in northern Metro Manila, in the cities of Manila and Parañaque and now in Marikina prove the experts right.

The ill effects of climate change aren’t going away overnight; expect typhoons worse than Ondoy to be in store. The government must start planning for the long term, building new water paths and catchments and boosting reforestation. Zoning rules must be strictly enforced. And those Doppler radars must be installed soon.

AURORA AND QUEZON FROM NOVEMBER GEOPHYSICAL AND ASTRONOMICAL SERVICES ADMINISTRATION IN FEBRUARY IN SEPTEMBER LOREN LEGARDA MANILA AND PARA MANILA BAY AND LAGUNA METRO MANILA ONDOY PHILIPPINE ATMOSPHERIC
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