Our neighborhoods should start building their own arks
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2009-09-29

In the Old Testament account of The Great Flood, people laughed and derided Noah for building a gigantic ark. Noah, of course, had the last laugh when The Great Flood came to pass.

One big lesson we Filipinos should learn from last Saturday’s experience with Tropical Storm Ondoy is that it is high time Filipino neighborhoods (especially in those areas that are prone to flooding) start cooperating and provide for their own survival water crafts in anticipation of similar and even worse floods.

It need not be as massive as Noah’s ark. We do not need to store a pair of every animal like Noah was tasked. All we need to do is provide for a contingency water craft that can bring us – our loved ones and our neighbors – to safer grounds when the flood level reaches killer heights.

It was recorded that in just six hours in one Metro Manila area, Typhoon Ondoy poured down the equivalent of an entire month’s average Monsoon season rainfall. The Ondoy downpour plus the water that the Angat and La Mesa Dams were forced to disgorge resulted in just about the worst flooding your Chair Wrecker had witnessed in 60 years.

In all the nine years that your Chair Wrecker studied at the Ateneo de Manila University in Loyola Heights, there has never been an incident of flooding along Katipunan Avenue fronting the Blue Eagle campus. The video of torrential flood waters along Panay Avenue in Quezon City was scary even if viewed only from a television screen.

The cries and desperate pleas of people trapped on their roofs by floodwaters – fearing they’ll be swept to their deaths should the water level rise a few more meters – drew our deepest sympathies as we realized that it could be happening to some of our kin and friends somewhere. What their desperate cries and pleas highlighted was that the government’s much flaunted “Disaster Preparedness” Program was hardly prepared at all.

ABS-CBN’s ANC weekend anchor Stanley Palisada, whose family was also trapped by flood waters in Quezon City on the second floor of their home, narrated that they did not receive any help from the local or national government. Palisada’s family sustained themselves by eating candies. For him and his family, the lesson learned from the experience is that during times like these – “You are pretty much on your own.”

In one rare moment of truthfulness, Madame Gloria Macapagal Arroyo admitted that Filipinos must unite to face the challenges of the Tropical Storm Ondoy floods. To your Chair Wrecker, that is a subdued admission that the national and local governments are not capable of meeting the needs and requirements of the people affected by the floods.

There should be little doubt that what we are now experiencing are the manifestations of climate change. Following the predictions of the scientists who have been advocating a world radical revamp of ways and means of doing things – the Typhoon Ondoy floods are nothing compared to what is yet to come if we do not curb the green house effect.

The floods of Tropical Storm Ondoy are merely the products of super heavy rainfall. Wait until sea levels rise by several meters due to the melting of polar ice. Already below sea level in several areas, a future mega downpour accompanied by the rise of sea level may not even leave many people with roofs to stand on as they wait for rescue.

With what have already been happening, this is no longer a question of IF but one of WHEN it will happen. We may not even have a decade to wait for it to happen at the rate we are seeing worse flooding year in and year out.

The sad reality is that this is one problem which we Filipinos cannot solve by ourselves even if we all unite and give it our best shot. This is a global problem where the major industrialized countries are the biggest creators of the problem.

On our own, we can only improve our capacity to cope with problems like severe floods and the resulting damaged means of production, infrastructure and destroyed crops. We can address those anticipated threats to life by empowering our neighborhoods with the means to save lives – where we do not anymore have to rely on local and national government help which may not be forthcoming.

This is an excellent opportunity for Filipino unity and People Power. Nations are molded by crises. As a people, we have yet to encounter as many national crises as say the British, French, Chinese, Koreans and Japanese nations.

Not that we are praying or wishing for one - many of the great nations have gone through a civil war. Thank God we were spared from one during the worst of the Marcos, Estrada and Macapagal-Arroyo years.

We must learn from this Tropical Storm Ondoy experience and prepare ourselves to cope and survive the worse floods that will come. There are no political parties involved in this national problem. There are no religions involved either as it affects both Christians and Muslims alike of any affected community.

Severe flooding – the result of climate change – is the problem of all Filipinos in the face of a severe backlash from abused Mother Nature.

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