Typhoon Ondoy visited the Philippine heartland, traversing the main Luzon island from Aurora to Zambales. Comparatively speaking, it is a weak typhoon, barely reaching 85 kilometers per hour winds. However, it more than made up for this through a record rainfall of 455 millimeters in 24 hours, 351 millimeters of which fell in a 6-hour period from 8am to 2pm last Saturday, September 26, 2009.
Based on preliminary data so far, the torrential Ondoy rain has caused more than a hundred casualties, destroyed billions of pesos worth of crops and infrastructure, displaced more than 350,000 persons, and disrupted the lives of millions more. In Metro Manila, it was estimated that more than 95 percent of the areas along the Marikina and Pasig rivers were submerged in chest-high waters and that many major roads are still impassable at present.
The Ondoy typhoon represents the new and fiercer extreme weather situation that manifested itself in recent years, largely due to the global phenomenon of climate change. Philippines is cited as among the nations gravely in peril because of climate change.
Ondoy underscored the woeful state of our disaster preparedness and our disaster prevention. Despite the huge disaster budget, the government has failed to adequately establish the necessary infrastructure for handling extreme weather situations. The failure to install Doppler weather radar that is capable of measuring rainfall, for example, is a glaring lack in the Ondoy typhoon monitoring. The perennial problem of clogged sewers and antiquated flood control system in Metro Manila is another.
However, the delay of immediate response from the authorities, not to speak of lack of preemptive measures such as evacuation, public warning, and rescue equipment prepositioning, was very much evident in the Ondoy disaster handling. All too clearly, local and even national disaster responses were swiftly overran by Ondoy’s widespread impact. This inadequacy was underlined last Saturday in the stranding of local officials and the president herself taking a light rail transit train just to attend the emergency meeting of the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC).
There is sure to be a political impact in the coming elections from the typhoon Ondoy’s brief visit to the nation’s heartland where more than 40 percent of the voters live. The sensitive questions that will be asked are: Where did disaster funds, including contingency funds, go? How prepared is the government to handle major disasters, both in their preventative and occurent stages? To what extent does the government appreciate global warming and climate change in its over-all policy, including disaster preparations?
The answers to these questions will become part of the election decision of a big number of voters. Ondoy may well determine whether the presidential candidate will swim or sink.