Yesterday, I made it a point to go early to this month’s Talakayan sa Kubo of the Center for Environmental Concerns Philippines (CEC Phils). Entitled “Tracing Disasters: Ondoy, Pepeng and Gloria”, the discussion expounded on the Ondoy and Pepeng experiences, their inextricable link to climate change, and the Arroyo regime’s failure to prepare and respond accordingly as the root of the tragedies. I participated in last week’s Blog Action Day on climate change and remembered how the round-up of other posts discussing climate change contained a lot of misconceptions that were pointed out in the Talakayan sa Kubo.
Urban Poor and Flooding
It is common, for instance, to hear people pinning the blame on the urban poor for the massive flooding. Criticisms range from their garbage output to their settlements clogging floodways. In Ondoy’s case, however, it must be pointed out how the part played by the urban poor is arguably moot and academic. Ondoy’s unprecedented amount of rainfall over a continuous 4-6 hour period caused the flow of water from Wawa dam to grow exponentially in force, which is diverted through the Manggahan floodway to dump into the Laguna Lake. As was pointed out in the Talakayan, Laguna Lake was already full thanks to Ondoy, and when the water from Wawa reached it the water naturally spilled over its vicinity.
Technically, the flooding was bound to occur regardless of the urban poor factor. They are in fact among the most gravely affected by the Typhoons, as I pointed out in my blog action post, so adding derisive, middle-class bias is just rubbing salt in the wound.
There are also the cliché glorifications of individual action, rooted in the perception that Climate Change is a problem of lifestyle. Suggestions range from throwing trash in is proper place to energy saving measures, all in the effort to reduce one’s carbon footprint. But as pointed out in the Talakayan, the problem of climate change is systemic and deeply entrenched in economic inequities from the local scale to the global, where the profit and production of “climate change-proof” developed nations and corporations are realized at the expense of the vulnerable peoples of the world, who lack in economic capacity to protect themselves from the impacts of climate change.
This is not to discredit the merits of individual changes, but to push concerned citizens to do more, and to make it a concerted effort. To speak of climate change mitigation and adaptation is easy; to achieve it is a completely different ball game. It is up to us as a nation to proactively implement adaptation practices such as disaster risk reduction, and to mandate a government that will prioritize the people’s needs and not imperialist greed.
Obviously, we currently do not have such a government. The Ondoy and Pepeng experience is peppered with ineptitude and mismanagement in handling the disasters, and yet government officials try to wash their hands off the case and blame climate change as solely responsible in these recent tragedies. It was pointed out in the Talakayan that the Philippines, being so close to the areas in the globe most prone to type 4/5 typhoons, is often hit by disasters sans the climate change factor. If such a problem is chronic, then the government should have a sustained plan of action to reduce the risks of hazards being realized as disasters. Based on the NDCC’s (lack of) preparedness in responding to the typhoons, the government has none.
Was it not mandated to uphold its citizens’ welfare? Why then does the government continue to be the instrument of foreign corporations in exploiting our nation’s environmental resources, which is what worsens global warming and makes our communities more vulnerable to disasters? And Gloria Macapagal Arroyo even claimed the title of climate change czar. Apparently, titles can only do so much.
Indeed, it is “Typhoon Gloria”, the government that did nothing to allay the impacts of climate change to its people, who is the mother of all disasters. And with the silhouette of the 2010 elections already in the horizon, the need for the Filipino people to struggle for a pro-people, pro-environment government grows ever urgent. In a semi-colonial, semi-feudal state where electoral reform can only do so much in making a dent in a government dominated by landlords and bureaucrat capitalists that play lapdog to US interests, the task is uphill, and might achieve only tactical changes at best.
Is that reason enough not to do something about it? No. That is reason enough to go beyond the elections and raise the level of our struggles in advocating for climate justice.