Thursday, 15 October 2009

A Perfect Disaster: A Blog on Climate Change

“When man makes mistakes, they call it evil. When God makes mistakes, they call it nature”. That’s according to Jack Nicholson’s character in the 1987 film Witches of Eastwick. And when a typhoon struck down a huge tree in my neighborhood in Manila in the1990’s, I uttered the same line to my landlord. He thought it was original. (I take it he never saw the movie).

So, were last month’s typhoons in the Philippines man’s or God’s mistakes? They had Pinoy names. What do you think?

Ondoy and Pepeng (internationally known Ketsana and Parma, respectively) were no God’s mistakes. They were ingredients for a perfect disaster.

I was actually home in the Negros island, one of the middle islands (sounds like Lord of the Ring’s Middle Earth) of the Philippines when Ondoy made landfall on September 26, 2009, and we thought it was going to be just another typical typhoon: dark skies, heavy rains, a little flooding here and there. And that’s it. A few things would get wet, the flooding would go down, and the sun would be out the next day!

But we were wrong! Nobody – the people, the government, and not even the national weather bureau – got it right! And while we were getting the usual downpours in the south of the country, we didn’t know at that time, that people were already struggling to save themselves and their homes in certain parts of Manila and Luzon from the flash floods that even reached the second storey of their houses! And while everyone else was watching the breaking news on TV, we were actually watching a perfect disaster in the making.

And it was. A perfect disaster.

From the primitive weather forecasting equipment, to poor urban planning, poor and undisciplined garbage disposal, poor metropolitan drainage system. Let’s throw in corruption, relentless mining, illegal logging, carelessness and indifference. All these sound like man’s mistakes, and the two typhoons just completed the picture.

This is what we get when we run out of luck. Nature makes sure we don’t have all the fun.

Have we learned?

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On my flight back to Manila (from Negros), I asked for a window seat so that I can take photos of the flooded areas from above. Though not as dramatic as those photos of the floods in the news, I saw for myself the consequence of man’s mistakes. This was the worst flooding in Manila in 40 years. We cannot blame nature; we can only blame ourselves. And if we survived this disaster, the next Ondoy and Pepeng will make sure we don’t.

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