Na-bar down-A A +A
Saturday, January 19, 2013
THE indigenous peoples of Davao Oriental, Compostela Valley and Agusan del Sur were among those that were badly hit by Typhoon Pablo. While it can be argued that the storm did not discriminate as people were affected regardless of their wealth, ethnicity, power and standing, it also cannot be denied that people were not affected the same way.
There were people who got it worse because where and how they were physically, economically, politically and culturally positioned before the disaster made them more vulnerable, and the impacts they experienced a lot deadlier. In the case of Pablo, these included marginal rural communities, particularly the lumads and others in the uplands. And if we are not careful, the way government, civil society, the private sector and the international community respond to the disaster in the short to long-term can disadvantage these people further.
Many rural poor are situated in gullies, ravines and inclines that are susceptible to landslides and flashfloods. Their livelihood is dependent on the physical and natural resources around them, and is easily disrupted and even wiped out by disasters. Unless organized, they generally are unable to significantly intervene in the political stream, and are often at the receiving end of unresponsive and even harmful policies. Poor access to or inappropriate social services such as education affect literacy levels and weaken their ability to take advantage of early warnings and preventive measures, and to immediately benefit from life-saving measures when disaster strikes.
Their life ways are often misunderstood and in some instances regarded as backward and inferior. Even with the purest of intentions, those providing assistance could be imposing their own lowland, middle to upper class values and views. An example of this is the insistence on permanent relocation that forces rural folks to live in clustered houses outside of their farms. Rationalizing the approach as necessary to build communities smacks of ignorance of the notions and practices of community by people in rural areas, and assumes there is only one conception and set of standards for community life. Adding decorative elements associated with that particular ethnic grouping does not make this housing practice culturally sensitive.
In spite of, and perhaps because of, these factors the resilience of these marginal communities cannot be doubted.
Short-term thinking and weaknesses in capacity to analyze how development models and political and economic interests past and present may limit our view of the December 2012 disaster to climatological factors. But not so for communities whose existence and experiences are intertwined with forest and mountain ecosystems. They know in an up-close and personal way how poorly regulated logging, mining and other extractive industries can generate patterns and set in motion events that could, many years later, make people even many kilometers away vulnerable to hazards.
It is very poignant then that Datu Matunao, a Matigsalog chieftain and one of the leaders of the barricade, chose the phrase “na-bar down na” to describe the state of the environment. “Bar down” means flattened or crushed and refers to the effects of the snapping or crashing down of the timber used to shore up tunnels in small-scale mining.
The 5,000 protesters who barricaded the highway in Monkayo on January 15 were not only railing against inequities in access to emergency assistance. They were also protesting development models shored up and sanctioned by policies and programs that in the face of the deleterious effects of the changing climate had the cumulative impact of flattening and crushing communities. Their messages deserve attention and further reflection, and should not be dismissed as mere political propaganda.
The point being that in these times of climatological and other unpredictabilities we are all at risk of being barred down, and to be resilient we need to see and understand patterns and take action.
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Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on January 19, 2013.