Much to be undone

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By Arnold Alamon

Wrapped in Grey

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


THE windows and doors of this small house are all boarded up. I am usually partial to airy open spaces but two weeks of this wet and now windy weather make me wish that I am in an Ivatan stone house instead of this hut made for tropical weather. But then I am pretty sure I would say the opposite thing in a few months. The searing heat of the windless summer will make me want to tear down the walls of this house and pine for the stormy weather of the past week.

Welcome to the weather of extremes brought about by climate change. I would gladly endure the tolerable inconvenience of the dampness and the mud, and alternately the heat if these were all there is to it. But we know painfully well that the past few years have proven the deadly effects of these unnatural natural events.

We were on the edge this week as the Cagayan de Oro river threatened once again to swell with the incessant rains brought in by the first storm after the deluge that was Yolanda. And we remain on alert as I write this as the movement of the storm toward the Davao region gather heavy rainclouds over most of Northern Mindanao.

To say that not much has changed about our regard to the danger posed by weather systems would be wrong. Information about various weather tracking models, rainfall amount, and water levels in our major rivers are now literally at the tip of our fingertips. Thanks to the public scientists who make this information available to everyone which are now being used diligently by wired citizens for safety.

Our reputation as the social media capital of the world complements these developments. Vital information are quickly passed around among family and friends and these emerging social practices go a long way in efficient disaster response as well as provide assurance for worried relatives continents away.

But there is also a danger with these new coping mechanisms that have the tendency to reinforce one aspect of the problem that make us so vulnerable to all these challenges brought about by climate change.

We privately adjust to the impending floods, landslides, and storm surges leaving those who do not have access to information and resources at the mercy of the elements and an equally harmful condition, that of government ineptitude.

If there is any major lesson that can be culled by the destruction of Yolanda and before that Pablo and Sendong is that our survival and resilience not just as families but as a community in the face of these natural calamities depends much on how we nurture our collective ties to each other. Playing a central role towards these efforts, should be our local governments.

It was an encouraging development that in the past local elections, how our elected officials responded to these natural disasters was at the forefront of public discourse. I dare say that it was the defining issue in the election results and continue to be so for the elected local officials as they fulfill their terms. By all indications, it is also going to be the case for the upcoming national elections in 2016 after the debacle of Yolanda and the pathetic response of the national government.

But there is also great disappointment in how some politicians have responded to this challenge. They are now investing in making themselves visible in high-profile post-disaster situations such as relief and rescue operations when the point of their responsibility is to avoid precisely these very situations from developing.

The key here is engendering community preparedness down at the level of the barangay and when the situation finally calls for it, make the resources available for pre-emptive evacuation possible. It is encouraging to note that the current provincial government has proven their capacity for the latter but might need to consider placing greater emphasis for the former.

But ultimately, a collective soul-searching must be undertaken. For instance, to make sense of Sendong and Pablo and prevent similar disasters from happening again, we must probe the kind of political economy that has created silted rivers and denuded forests. Unregulated expansion of agricultural capitalism and unabated logging operations in the uplands all undertaken for private profit are just some of the ignored contexts that create the conditions for disaster.

If we are to really be resilient in the true meaning of the word and not just as battle-hardened survivors of one naturally calamity after another, then we are required to take a long hard look about the way we order our societies. Among the community of nations, this same challenge is posed to industrialized nations who have benefitted from the catastrophic burning of fossil fuels at such a scale so as to alter global temperatures in order for them to afford their high standards of living. There is no stronger argument for a return to a more collective mode of living in the face of the revealed consequences of how the wanton profit-seeking of a few has wreaked havoc to our shared existence on this singular earth.

In the time of extreme weather events brought about by climate change, much is to be done and undone. But at stake are our very lives especially here in the Third World made more vulnerable by poverty and a backward political economy.

*****

(Arnold P. Alamon is an Assistant Professor IV, Sociology Department, Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology.)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on January 21, 2014.

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