[Opinion] A period of consequences

Two years ago, my aunt Virginia who resides in Illinois sent me a copy of the book ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. Authored by Al Gore and printed in 2006, the book chronicles the former US vice-president’s assessment of the global environment in light of the global warming phenomenon.

Also a subject of Al Gore’s widely circulated documentary-lecture on the climate and environment, the An Inconvenient Truth provides illustrations and images, discussions, and analyses on the climate phenomenon and it demonstrates why it must be considered as a “planetary emergency” and why it requires collective intervention.

Although it is not the first of its kind that tackles climate change as a pressing issue, the An Inconvenient Truth have undeniably opened an opportunity for the seemingly detached public on the issue to examine and scrutinize the subject matter. Its documentary film version proved useful and educational for it utilized a story-telling approach which simplified one of the most technical and scientific issue of the day. As a result, it elevated the knowledge of people from different walks of life and it provided them with a better understanding about the interconnectedness of everything inside the planet earth.

The subject matter offered some answers on why the world’s weather patterns have become erratic; why typhoons have become frequent and stronger; why sea levels are rising (or are expected to rise); why drought are prolonged and heatwave frequent; and why we are confronting the emergence of new diseases. Further, it also offers a grim reality that suggested of the inevitable crisis which describes the aftermath of every natural catastrophe like food and water crisis, displacements of people, hunger, and chaos. Likewise, it also presents recommendations on what actions are needed  to be taken at the individual level and collectively through governments.

For two weekends in the Philippine archipelago, government officials stood helpless on the spectacle of Mother Earth’s wrath as it unleashed its violent strength through Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng over Luzon regions. Ondoy was met with a customary response of under-preparedness for it did not register as a super typhoon in the country’s weather bureau. Yet the heavy amount of rain has put everything into standstill – passengers inside buses and vehicles in the middle of the road, office workers in their offices, shoppers in the mall, people at home under their roofs.

The events that followed caught everybody stunned and paralyzed. In a matter of minutes, water level reached the second floor of two-storey houses and which prompted residents to climbed-up the roof. An account by one survivor bared that while he was at the roof, his face was “pulverized”, noise was earsplitting, and visibility was low, because the rain pounded heavily.

While treated as a regular storm, Ondoy’s strength was later credited as something which could equal or more powerful than Hurricane Katrina which hit Southern parts of the United States in 2005. Katrina is only one of the 27 destructive hurricanes that hit United States and its neighboring countries in the last 10-years.

Following Ondoy was Typhoon Pepeng. Unlike Ondoy, Pepeng was categorized as a “significantly strong typhoon”. This one jolted the national government to raise the alarm, as such, directives for early evacuation were issued to local government officials.

The Philippine archipelago is not new to storms and typhoons. Surrounded by water, the country combats an average of 20 typhoons annually. Typhoon Ondoy, however, puts into statistics a closer interval as far as visits of destructive typhoons in the Philippines is concerned. Only in June 2008, Typhoon Frank desecrated the Western Visayas Region bringing Panay Island into its knees by destroying vital infrastructures, crippling water and electricity services, damaged agriculture resources, and it killed hundreds of lives as a result of flash floods. Both typhoons – Frank and Ondoy – might not have shared the same scientific characteristics, but Ondoy’s trail of destruction produced similar impressions with that of Typhoon Frank.

One year after, the damage shaped by Typhoon Frank lingers on as delivery of water services have deteriorated owing to the deficient resources necessary to upgrade the facilities of the local water district. The billions of funds raised by the national government intended for repair and rehabilitation dubbed as “Paglaum Fund” remains in the budget item pending release by the Budget Department ‘due to lack of government funds.’ All these in spite of government’s claim of a strong economy in the midst of global recession and having passed more than a trillion pesos in general appropriations for 2009.

Government’s response indicates the same pattern in light of Typhoon Ondoy’s aftermath. Days after the typhoon, the Arroyo administration has yet to employ a centralized and coordinated system in order to effectively execute its rescue efforts, deliver and distribute needed relief goods, provide evacuation centers and health facilities, and neutralize an outbreak of diseases.

This pattern demonstrates one thing – Philippine government is not in the best shape, organizationally and logistically, to face the dire consequences being presented by climate change. This is alarming because strong typhoons will predictably become more and more a regular occurrence in the days to come putting disasters on top of the list. This puts a heavy weight in the shoulders of our people for disaster adaptation measures in order to survive.

Climate change seems to have been exhaustively discussed by government and the different sectors both in the national and international arena yet concrete efforts to address this concern remains unrealized. In the Philippines for instance, the Energy Department continuously issues contracts for the establishment of climate-causing coal-fired power plants while development of the country’s rich renewable energy resources is lagging behind. Unreasonably, the Environment Department also continues issuing environmental clearances for the same purpose saying coal-fired power plant projects are vital for energy supply stability – a significant requirement if we aim to achieve economic development, it claims.

On the other hand, numerous local government units remained non-compliant to solid waste management efforts in spite of the passage of Republic Act 9003 in 2001 which mandates garbage segregation at source and an establishment of a sanitary landfill in its locality. This law is only one among the many legislation required to combat climate change, however, it is being treated too lightly by the government.

The An Inconvenient Truth emphasized the thoughts of Winston Churchill when he issued a storm warning to the British people in 1936. Churchill said: “The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.”

At the outset of two typhoons in a short period of two weeks, it is worth realizing that something is seriously wrong with our government’s response to climate change. The consequence of its delay and procrastination is beyond measure. (Sun.Star Iloilo Online, 9 October 2009)

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