Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Ondoy and Uring parallelism by Emil J

Ondoy reminds me very much of Typhoon Uring 18 years ago when Ormoc was devastated by a horrendous flood that took thousands of lives and destroyed millions worth of property. Like Uring, Ondoy was estimated to be a minor typhoon that had a center wind of 55 kph, moving at the speed of 12 kph. Uring was moving at the speed of 11 kph. Pag-asa's announcement didn't create much stir because the figures were not threatening enough.

Thus, people were caught by surprised when Ondoy brought torrents of rainfall that broke records, flooding entire cities that spared no one. Rich and poor alike share similar fate. While Uring left thousands killed and wiped out entire families, Ondoy devastated properties that left hundreds of thousands homeless and nowhere to go. Its flood didn't subside until days later, and hundreds could not be rescued because the waters had not subsided. Uring's flood lasted only for 30 minutes, leaving sprawled bodies in their agonies of death.

But Uring's flood was not caused by heavy rainfall. In fact, there was only a slight drizzle in the city. The heavy rain fell in the upstream sections of the two river systems, Anilao and Malbasag rivers, cascading down to the city in a rampage that caught those living along the riverbanks swimming for dear life. In Ondoy's case, the heavy rains fell on the helpless population and on cities built near the riverbanks of Marikina, Cainta and Pasig, flooding even middle class subdivisions once thought to be immune to floods.

The cities' drainage systems simply could not cope with so much rain water. This was made worse by the clogging of water ways and esteros caused by human settlements Add in the climate change factor, a phenomenon recognized only recently, and you have a perfect recipe for disaster. The media called the event a "deluge", comparable to the Biblical Noah's great flood. It is a shocking wake-up call to the realities of climate change especially to those who treated issue as an academic one. All along, a lot of people thought that the issue was still debatable and that its impact would not reach our shores until decades later.

But Ondoy is probably just a precursor of things to come. To me the Metropolitan Manila is a disaster waiting to happen. It is simply too congested, and its infrastructures are bound to give way under extreme conditions. Millions work and live in areas unfit for human habitation - near riverbanks, under bridges, in squatter colonies in makeshift hovels, over esteros - clogging waterways with tons of wastes and plastics, so that drainage systems malfunction and flooding occurs even during slight rainfalls. All of these because factories, offices and schools are all in the big cities, attracting hordes of migrants from the country's rural areas.

I used to live in the big city for 11 years in the '70s, and even then, I thought Manila needed to decongest itself of its factories and schools. Now more than 30 years later, the congestion continues as Metropolitan Manila continues to attract job hunters and fortune seekers. I have not heard of any government policy encouraging manufacturing firms and offices to relocate themselves to the poorer, less developed but labor-rich provinces.

Maybe Ondoy is that alarm call telling our government policy makers to heed the call of nature. In the light of the climate change phenomenon, maybe government should rethink its policies. Maybe, just maybe, it's time for an exodus from the big city.

No comments: