Rising from the Ashes - 1-A A +A
Thursday, May 1, 2014
OPPORTUNITIES abound every time there is a disaster. Do not get me wrong here, all I mean is that disasters (while they plague us with deaths and sufferings) often provide us with the chance to rectify things that we did wrong in the past.
Take for example Typhoon Pablo – people of Mindanao now know that we are not really typhoon-free. We need to design and build better infrastructures and shelters that can withstand the strong winds and flashfloods that accompany typhoons.
The recent fires in Davao City exposed the vulnerability of our informal settlements to man-made disasters. These areas have already been identified as vulnerable to natural disasters like storm surges and liquefaction but still informal settlers took the risk and built their shelters in these areas since these offered free or very low land prices. The congestion and light building materials made their community very vulnerable to fire which may have been aggravated by another crisis – power shortages that force people to use candles which if improperly handled can burn down houses.
The Isla Verde has been a shelter for the various migrants from other parts of Mindanao. According to some Badjaos (now known as Goodjaos), they found it as a safe haven in the 80s and 90s when some of their communities in western Mindanao were harassed by pirates (arrrrr yes they still exist, matey). With access to the gulf for their fishing activities as well as the downtown area to peddle their pearls, this area was indeed a haven.
A decade ago I was invited by Hemry, my suki pearl peddler to go fishing. Early morning the next day, I went to their area so we could launch his banca to go to Samal. It was really hard not to notice and smell the numerous landmines that were strewn along the shoreline as well the UFOs (unidentified floating objects). Please pardon me if I spoiled your appetite but this is just reality. This scenario is not exclusive in that area but is the reality in almost all of the shoreline communities of our urban poor. They have long been living in a disaster area where their health is constantly being threatened by a deadly stew of diseases.
A few years back, I was invited to attend an international forum on sanitation and I realized the high cost of our health services by not paying attention to proper sanitation and waste disposal systems. We have long been advocating clean and green programs to prevent pollution and garbage but we forgot about sanitation. We are proud of our sanitary landfills but we still do not have waste water and septage treatment plants. Our towns and cities are always proud of our nice beaches but have we checked these waters for e. coli among others? Sorry again to spoil your beach fun but better check if the communities surrounding those beaches have proper sanitation facilities.
So what should be done to really improve the conditions of our disaster-struck informal communities?
In disaster zones that offer us a clean slate to replan, we start by assessing the wisdom of allowing the people to rebuild their houses in the same area. I know that it is expensive for the local government to relocate people but it is also exhausting to regularly rescue and provide aid or assistance to communities who are constantly exposed to geohazards or disasters. (To be continued on Thursday, May 8, 2014)
Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on May 01, 2014.