Sitting duck

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Saturday, December 8, 2012


IT was a close call. After ripping Northern Mindanao, typhoon Pablo (international name Bopha), spared Cebu City, plus the province’s north. There was only 150 kilometers to spare.

Pablo was the "first tropical cyclone worldwide to make landfall with winds of category 5 strength” since 2010. “Pablo” wrecked Cebu’s southern tip towns: Boljoon, Oslob, Santander. Sunday, it exits Philippine area of responsibility. Knock on wood.

“The angel of death has many eyes.” Cebuanos looked into those eyes last week. The storm spun away. What if it did not?

Try this drill. Blend official updates and news agency reports on “Pablo.” Scrap the Mindanao names and substitute Cebuano counterparts. Wouldn’t it read this way?

“In Cebu, the death toll from typhoon? (codename?) stands at 456, National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council reported. The body count will rise as 533 are still missing.

“The only ones left are the dead," a barefoot (?) said at the outskirts of almost obliterated (Talisay?). Also shattered were (Liloan? Bogo?) Winds that whipped South Road Properties flattened San Pedro Calungsod’s templete.

The storm dumped, within 24 hours, 240 millimeters of rain. The normal rainfall total is over 100 mm. Sendong killed more than 1,200 in Iligan and Cagayan de Oro last year when it dumped over 400 mm of rainfall as it made landfall.

Rain triggered mudflows from denuded (Busay?) and other upland barangays. Muck swept away families, including those who built shanties on waterways thru political coddlers. Finding corpses was not a problem due to the overpowering stench, said rescuers.

"Your nose will lead you to them." Such scenarios will unfold---if our leaders persist in business-as-usual. Tomorrow will not be another today.

Tropical cyclones swirl into being 5 or 8 degrees of latitude away from the equator. Pablo shattered this yardstick, US National Aeronautics and Space Administration reports. Pablo bolted from category 3 to 5 when approximately 6 degrees north of the equator. It also set a new record as “the most intense typhoon to strike Mindanao.”

Some 2.13 million men, women and children cram 12 Metro Cebu towns and cities. We haven’t thought-out a disaster management plan. Nor have we consulted citizens. We merely react after a storm hits. We’re sitting ducks, as were Cagayan de Oro and Iligan last year.

“What we are seeing is a phenomenon that affect many major cities in Asia," says Neeraj Jain, Asian Development Bank country specialist for the Philippines. "Urbanization has been so rapid. Yet, the planning processes have lagged."
Begging for international aid is not a substitute for policy. Nor do we need a crystal ball on what needs to be done. Can officials of the country’s 12 metro areas, for a start, talk to each other?

Trees are essential. Forest cover in Cebu, for example, is two percent-–far below the 30 percent minimum required for ecological stability. Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Beijing plant trees on every available plot.

Through three terms, Mayor Tomas Osmeña couldn’t be bothered with trees. Mayor Mike Rama failed to firmly reverse Osmeña’s skid into disaster. Instead, Rama dawdled with schemes like an arch for every barangay.

Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia succeeded with projects like the first piping of surface water from Carmen to Cebu. She faltered on breaking out of the deforestation crisis. Does this past explain why, as today’s “sitting ducks,” we could be tomorrow’s victims?.

(Email: juan_mercado77@yahoo.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on December 09, 2012.

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