What have we done to deserve this?
() - October 4, 2009 - 12:00am

How do you console a man who lost his entire family - his wife, five children and his mother - at the height of tropical storm Ondoy’s onslaught? Jeepney barker Miguel Asuelas could only stare in horror at the sight of his drowned family - his wife’s lifeless hands still clutching their two-week old baby and one year-old son, while his three other children and his mother lay in a heap inside their house in Barangay Tumana, one of the hardest hit areas in Marikina. 

There are so many kinds of horror stories similar to this one, of babies plucked from the arms of their mothers by the rampaging flood; of people whose homes they painstakingly built are now coated with mud and rendered useless; orphaned children relying on the mercy of strangers; billions worth of crops damaged and with it, the hope of farmers destroyed in the aftermath of Ondoy.

More than 600,000 survivors are now squeezed together in evacuation centers, and government is hard-pressed in coping with the situation since the floodwaters have not really subsided. As of this writing, we still don’t know the extent of damage to other provinces like Isabela. Fortunately, Typhoon Pepeng was not as strong as previously thought and did not directly hit highly-populated areas like Metro Manila. I guess our prayers have been answered because the potential damage by Typhoon Pepeng has been mitigated.

But when tragedy occurs, it’s not unusual for people to ask: “What have we done to deserve this?” They will also look for someone to blame: the indiscriminate cutting down of trees by illegal loggers; the bulldozing of mountains to make way for subdivisions; the hardheadedness of people living along riverbanks and creek sides who treat the water as their public toilet; the proliferation of illegal fish pens in Laguna Bay; and other activities that have contributed to the degradation of our environment.

Obviously, the recent disaster is Mother Nature’s way of exacting her revenge on the people because they have not taken care of the environment. The flooding we experienced is a demonstration of the immutable law of nature: that sooner or later, any abuse will come back to us a hundredfold. The whole world is guilty of this abuse, with people engaging in activities that have altered our atmosphere and destroyed the ozone layer. Massive industrialization has led to the insatiable demand for coal and fossil fuels, so much so that global warming and climate change are now upon us.

Yet the worst kind of tragedy is also the time when we see good come out of people, with ordinary Filipinos contributing whatever they can - time, money, resources - to help out friends and strangers in need. US Ambassador Kristie Kenney, who herself went to distribute goods to the victims, informed us that she was overwhelmed at the Filipino spirit and the outpouring of help from people.

The United States was one of those that quickly responded, initially donating $100,000. The US is also giving $4 million worth of medicines and is lending bulldozers, forklifts and other equipment to help in the cleanup of damaged areas. The American troops are supposed to arrive in mid-October for the joint Balikatan exercises, but Ambassador Kenney requested them to come early to help in disaster relief operations. It seems US President Barack Obama is happy with the job Ambassador Kenney has been doing that he has extended her stay in Manila until next year.

Canadian Ambassador Robert Desjardins and Spanish Ambassador Luis Arias also informed us that their governments have donated to the typhoon victims. Other countries like China, Germany, the European Union, and Australia also gave donations - even while there is also so much suffering happening in other parts of the world like Indonesia due to an earthquake, and Samoa which was hit by a tsunami.

The tragedy wrought by Ondoy is only a glimpse of things to come, as experts have noted. A study by historian Greg Bankoff of the University of Hull in Auckland (who has written a number of books on Manila and the Philippines) notes that over the years, floods have become more recent and devastating. Significantly, a 2003 article by Bankoff cited that “The sheer weight of human numbers also puts considerable pressure on resources that, in turn, has substantial consequences on the environment, and intensifies both the severity and duration of floods.”

People can continue to argue and blame each other for what happened, but one thing is clear: We have to start planning to decongest Metro Manila because it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Metropolis to sustain its huge number of inhabitants. The dredging of Pasig River has to be speeded up, and local government units must have the political will to rid the riverbanks of illegal occupants.

The difficulty in conducting rescue and relief operations should also serve as object lessons about the need to be prepared for eventualities like Ondoy, because so many things have to be coordinated, even seemingly “indelicate” matters like putting portable toilets in evacuation centers. Yet it is even more tragic to hear about evacuees quarreling over relief goods like what happened in Novaliches because they were worried there would not be enough food to go around, with someone getting killed in the process.

The most difficult task ahead is helping so many people rebuild their ruined lives. But when all is said and done, and when the wrath of nature threatens to overcome our lives, we can only pray and put our faith in the mercy of God.

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Email: babeseyeview@yahoo.com

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