Mary Shelley wrote the novel Frankenstein from her tortured and scarred view of the magnificent Swiss Alps and lakes. It was all rain and darkness, the endless chill so brutal that the year 1816 was called The Year Without Summer. Hordes of starving masses roamed Europe as famine struck across the continent, with landlocked Switzerland the hardest hit.
Shelly drew the profile of the Creature in the novel from those desperate, rampaging and starving masses, whose murderous rage was an offshoot of the anarchy that came in the wake of a continent-wide famine and the resulting breakdown of civilization and order. Even prosperous Switzerland, a haven of civility, was not spared.
The Year Without Summer was the defining ecological moment of the 19th century and for the first time in America, there was crop failure so massive that dislocation became the norm. It was also the impossible year in America in which not a single tree grew, the year of a zero tree growth. Elsewhere, there was the rise of anti-colonial fervor, the start of a cholera epidemic in parts of Asia, and the weakening of ruling dynasties and monarchies.
What caused of all of these was not even a European occurrence or an event in the Americas. It was the deadliest volcanic eruption in known history—that of Mt. Tambora in Indonesia in 1815, located several thousand miles away. The dormant volcano awakened from 5,000 years of slumber with a big bang, killed over 100,000 people and upended the global climatic balance . The tsunamis that it triggered drowned tens of thousands in the coastal communities of Asia.
Shelley’s novel and Lord Byron’s apocalyptic poetry, were creatures of that Biblical-level volcanic eruption and its pestilential aftermath. They were drawn from real events as chilling, as brutal and as life-altering.
It would be wishful thinking to pretend that Yolanda, the most horrific typhoon to make landfall, would not impact on civility and order, or on the country’s fragile political equilibrium, given that that hardest hit region, the Eastern Visayas, is the third poorest in the country. While no literal 21st century Frankenstein would emerge from the rubble and dead-strewn communities, those managing the post-Yolanda efforts should learn lessons from the deadliest volcanic eruption in known history.
Facts are facts. There would be no easy transitions to normalcy. Bringing back to life the devastated communities would not be as easy as bringing to life the Pinatubo areas. There are many factors and realities that would severely challenge/ hamper the rebuilding efforts.
The Pinatubo areas managed to bounce back despite government and the monster–level official corruption that attended the reconstruction work. The people themselves, propped up by blessings of geography, took matters into their own hands. Of the official corruption, former Senator Ernie Maceda had a full file of that which he named “the grandmother of all scams.” In the case of Eastern Visayas, It would take the opposite. It would need a honest and genuinely caring government as steward of the rebuilding efforts.
Why does it need the steady hand of government? Why can’t people simply take charge of the rebuilding process, as this was the case in the Pinatubo areas. Many reasons.
Eastern Visayas, before Yolanda, had pockets of development, sure, and it had its share of vibrant communities. Still, it is reliant on the coconut industry and agro-fisheries. Mining is a big potential but has yet to be fully exploited. The coconut industry has been practically wiped out and this economic anchor cannot be resurrected overnight.
The region, unfortunately, has yet to fully develop educational and tourism hubs.
The area in the region that is nearest to a major market is in the Southern Leyte/Ormoc City part—which trades with Cebu. But it is not like the proximity of the Pinatubo areas to Metro Manila—the center of everything.
The Pinatubo areas, even with lahar flows still burying many communities, did not wait for one year to revive its poultry and hog business, plus the food processing component, and total gross from these activities even surpassed what could be earned from the traditional crops such as rice and sugar. In fact, it was after the eruption that Pampanga became the single largest producer of hog and poultry in the country, despite the hostile weather.
The proximity to Metro Manila also doubled the OFW placement in the areas right after the eruption. Remittances flowed with a vengeance.
With these absent from Eastern Visayas, the rebuilding and relief efforts have to be undertaken by government. The people may be willing to take the initiative but there are not enough opportunities for them to make a turnaround in a short period.
As we wrote earlier (The Manila Times was first to report that the inflow of money and support from outside would be overwhelming that by itself it would be a big challenge to the Aquino government), the government has to meld the huge inflows with superb management as it rebuilds the Yolanda-battered areas .
Yes, it has to be government as no other sector can.
But it has to carry out the rebuilding work with commitment and integrity. Otherwise, we would see anger, alienation and chaos rise out of the battered landscape. Frayed nerves and fraying social and economic institutions make up the lethal combination for massive unrest.