Monday, September 27, 2010

Never on Wednesday and Other Disaster Preparedness Plans

Sept. 26 marked the one year anniversary of Ondoy, the flood that wreaked havoc throughout Metro-Manila (see my Sept 28, 2009 post "Storm Signals").  There is much that still needs to be done to prevent a recurrence of the damage that would recur if a similar storm to were to strike again. Yet it's heartening to see that steps have already been taken in that direction including a campaign to reduce estuary-clogging  litter.

One of the most problematic forms of such refuse is the ubiquitous non-biodegradable plastic bag.  When improperly discarded it becomes an environmental menace, especially in blocking water drainage.   In order to encourage responsible use of these containers, several mall and supermarket chains  throughout the Philippines have teamed up with the DENR (Department of Environmental and Natural Resources).  They have declared Wednesdays as "Reusable Bag Day" and will charge shoppers a fee for these bags on those days beginning this week.  The purpose is to encourage consumers to be less wasteful by furnishing and reusing their own bags  while shopping. (Just think, what did we do both here and in the U.S. before plastic bags were invented?  Somehow we survived to tell the tale.)

Another favorable sign in the ongoing struggle to clean up Metro-Manila and at the same time reduce the risk of flooding  is the planned crackdown by the MMDA (Metropolitan Manila Development Authority) via renewed implementation of the anti-littering law, which has been on the books since 1996s but has not been enforced since 2003.  I really hope that something good comes of this ordinance,  However, given the cultural barriers against success, such as  indifference by Filipinos toward public sanitation, the practice of bribery by businesses and individuals towards officials and enforcers, and the national trait of ningas cogon  (initial enthusiasm followed by a quick wane of interest), I'm skeptical that this particular project will make much headway over the long haul.  But it's worth a shot.

On a larger scale, the Philippine government has taken such measures as upgrading the national meteorological  service PAGASA (Philippine Atmosphere Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration.  BTW Pag-asa is also the Tagalog term for "hope") to enable that department to issue hourly updates about storm and water level conditions. Previously that information was available only every 6 hours. In addition there has been  disaster preparedness training in various communities and supposedly overall better preparedness if the worst happens.

These are just a few steps in the right direction. Whether they will make a meaningful  impact can't be known of course until a disaster actually strikes. However, much of the damage to Metro-Manila from typhoon Basyang in July for example was the result of an unexpected swerve that the storm took, which the weather service using the old six-hour report schedule was unprepared to announce.  With their newly improved meteorological equipment, is there certainty that the authorities will be warned in a more timely manner next time in order to take proper precautions? And will they react accordingly?  We can't say for sure, but at least there's room for pag-asa.

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