After Typhoon Yolanda, some truths stare us in the face. One is that we are too many and too poor. Because of these conditions, we live anywhere and everywhere. In uplands which should be reserved for forests and watersheds, on seashores too near harm’s way when the ocean acts up.
Poverty and population density give us a hand-to-mouth existence that makes us cut corners. Our homes are poorly constructed, defenseless against the elements. Our abuse of the uplands and forests stress our mountains to come down in landslides in extreme weather. And if a storm or earthquake occurs our subsistence level living standard results in no food reserves, no basic medical supplies even in our hospitals and no adequate shelter from the vicissitudes of calamity to run to.
This last specifically means that if there is a typhoon, there are no typhoon-proof public structures virtually anywhere that can be safely evacuated to. It also means that first aid institutions like hospitals, schools, barangay halls are equally destroyed with the flimsy nipa huts and cannot be relied on to help. Equally so, the water and power systems cannot withstand the effects of storm systems.
We have obviously been in the typhoon belt from prehistoric times and yet we have not come up with solutions to the above problems. What is Plan B if the power fails, if the water supply is compromised, if the hospital becomes a storm victim? And where are the relief supplies? How are people prepared to behave in times like these? In some areas we have had earthquake drills of seeking cover under sturdy construction, what about post-earthquake? And how about in typhoons, fires, floods?
Crisis-prone countries have governments that give guidelines of emergency procedures as well as behavior, i.e. don’t panic, organize, proceed to government center, hospital, relief area, follow government instructions. There is a presumption that there will always be authority to lead the way.
Maybe Yolanda was just too much of a destructive force physically and mentally that all of the above could not happen. So, this government is mercilessly blamed for failing the test. Would the previous governments have fared better, considering there is no protocol established (maybe Albay under its local government is initiating one and more power to them).
One puzzle is why relief supplies are not packed and ready for distribution but saved in bulk and therefore have to be painstakingly repacked? Shouldn’t there be a well-put together relief package by now with all the emergency necessities in one unit?
Another is the training of First Responders, shouldn’t they be chosen well and trained well with the view that they must in turn train their own families to defend themselves while they go on duty? But then our police forces, teachers, most barangay officials live in circumstances of subsistence, probably in hazardous areas, poorly equipped and in truth, are victims as well. Weather personnel were right when predicting the super typhoon’s path; they worried about the high poverty incidence that was along the way.
How come our army and police forces when sent to the battlefield or the calamity area do not bring their own food? This is the ultimate error as in Zamboanga, troops sent to fight were without food provisions. What kind of Armed Forces are we managing? Are they expected to forage while fighting or helping calamity victims? We are certainly setting up human rights violation occasions in this careless, unprogrammed way we handle the armed forces that takes away their efficiency when they have to look for the next meal. This situation is unacceptable in fair weather or foul. In poverty or wealth.
Law and order as well as relief goods are equally important in calamity. Why didn’t the first C-130’s not bring in the troops with the supplies? And not just the troops, but the firemen, the medical personnel and the burial details? Leaving dead bodies in the open for days is putting us in medieval times or black plague conditions. It is also a failure of humanitarianism. First day, appalling, second and third days after, condemnable.
Sure, this is hindsight. But what about foresight? If you are in a typhoon belt, shouldn’t you have defenses or emergency measures for before and after? Yes, it was a super typhoon and yes, we cannot challenge nature’s fury. But certainly in this 21st century we could have planned how to mitigate a storm, how to protect oneself from it. At least put in place some rational and tested effort to do it.
It is disheartening that Leyte and Samar, the most victimized of our islands by typhoons have not adjusted to their environment like Batanes and the Northern Luzon islands have by building sturdier structures, showing respect for Nature’s depredations. But then again, Batanes has a small, manageable population. No one tempts Fate by living by the seashore. They have learned the lessons of the past so they make less mistakes.
A typhoon barreled into Batanes sometime in 1988 if I remember correctly and as part of Bigay Puso I went to do relief work. No deaths, lots of destruction of banana plants, trees, some roofs (thatch), some harvested food supplies. Local government officials were in place, other relief agencies present including the Red Cross facilitated by government planes. Relief work was orderly with the population in civilized behavior. But again, Batanes does not have the conditions of population density and life at the edge as in the southern typhoon belt.
Lack of foresight
In addressing the historic and contemporary fact that there are certain provinces along the typhoon belt, government should have led the way. And it is not just this government we are talking about but all the ones from here to the past who never effectively and permanently planned, who never put in place time-tested emergency measures in place, or educated the people as much as possible because they never dwelt on the problem, looked at what the future would surely bring in terms of weather. The result is they did not teach the coming generations but in effect left them to fend for themselves, to repeat mistakes of omission and commission.
If we cannot accept or admit the above, then of course we cannot admit what outsiders viewing us in our calamitous state observe and comment.
Whoever and whichever governments (more than one, definitely) will try to reverse this situation faces a herculean task that will need a gargantuan budget (from latest events this country has the wherewithal that illicitly goes to others) that will take decades, maybe a century. It will have to convince itself and its constituents to change and adapt to a better way of life, a cultural upheaval of sorts as it addresses population density, hazardous areas, poverty, etc. If not, there will be more misery, more irrationality, more tragedy as now stares us in the face.