Thursday, September 30, 2010

Another 'Ondoy' unlikely "Anniversary of big flood marked this Sunday"

A repeat of the devastation brought about by
tropical storm “Ondoy” a year ago this Sunday is most unlikely to
happen, despite the onset of rain-inducing La Niña, an official of the
Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services
Administration (PAGASA) said on Saturday.

Dr. Susan Espinueva, chief of the PAGASA's Hydrometeorology Division,
said there is “a minimal possibility” of another “Ondoy” occurring in
Metro Manila, because the onset of northeast monsoon or
“hangingamihan” is expected to begin in a few weeks from now or as
early as October.

The northeast monsoon is the period when cold wind moves from Siberia
and felt in the Philippines, which is also characterized by a
generally drier condition from November to February.

“When ‘Ondoy’ struck the country, the storm was enhanced by the
southwest monsoon (hanging habagat) and modified by the topography,
that’s why the effect was intense. Those were the ingredients to
massive rains,” Espinueva explained in an interview.

“However, today, we don’t have the southwest monsoon as the northeast
monsoon, which is generally drier, is setting in the country. The
southwest monsoon usually has a tail that enhances a storm, but the
northeast monsoon only affects the path of the storm,” she said.

PAGASA reported that the amount of rainfall dumped by “Ondoy” was
recorded at 455 millimeters, exceeding the highest amount of rainfall
previously documented on June 7, 1967 at 334.5 millimeters.

Ondoy caused massive floods, particularly in Metro Manila and nearby
provinces of Rizal and Laguna, due to non-stop rains on Sept. 26,

Government records show that almost a million people or about 170,000
families were affected adversely by “Ondoy” in 21 provinces in the

Meanwhile, at least 100,000 families sought shelter in evacuation
shelters due to the floods.

Although PAGASA does not expect a repeat of Ondoy, Espinueva said the
effects of La Niña may be felt beginning October, and will last until
early 2011 in some parts of the country.

“We are still in a transition period from El Niño to La Niña event,
that’s why we do not feel yet the effects of La Niña,” she pointed

“We may feel the effects of a full-blown La Niña in November,
manifested by stronger storms and increased amount of rainfall in some
areas, particularly in the eastern part of the country,” she added.

Espinueva noted that La Niña will not adversely affect Metro Manila
because it is situated in the western portion of the country.

PAGASA characterized La Niña or literally “The Little Girl” as the
cooling of equatorial Pacific Ocean, which occurs every three to five
years on the average that lasts nine months to one year.

“It is most often that we experience typhoons in the last quarter of a
year. The storms during this period cross land or make landfall,
causing massive effects on areas that it will be passing through,”
Espinueva said.

“During La Niña conditions, major parts of the country experience near
normal to above normal rainfall conditions, particularly over the
eastern sections of the country. La Niña conditions also favor
tropical cyclone formation over the western Pacific, which tend to
increase the number of tropical cyclones,” PAGASA said.

Based on the latest La Niña advisory issued by the United States-based
Climate Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA), La Niña strengthened in August, as negative sea
surface temperature anomalies reached at least -1 degree Centigrade
across most of the equatorial Pacific Ocean by the end of the month.

“Nearly all models predict La Niña to continue at least through early
2011. It is likely that the peak strength of this event will be at
least moderate to strong,” it said.

Espinueva said the installation of Doppler radars all over the country
will help the PAGASA monitor and estimate the amount of precipitation
produced by a storm even before an actual rainfall occurs.

At present, three Doppler radars were already in place — in Baler,
Aurora; Baguio City, and Subic Bay.

The Subic Bay radar is being calibrated, while a two-week training for
its use will begin before October.

PAGASA also expects to finish the installation of four other Doppler
radars in Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur; Cebu; Tampakan, South Cotabato;
and Tagaytay City.

Espinueva pointed out that there are also automated weather stations
(AWS) in different parts of the country to document rainfall data,
particularly during storms.

PAGASA plans to increase to 160 the number of installed AWS and set up
150 more rain gauges nationwide.

Green advocates, on the other hand, appealed to the public to use
practical reusable alternatives to plastic bags, such as the native
"bayong" to prevent clogging waterways just like what happened during
“Ondoy’s” fury when tons of garbage, mainly plastic items, were
recovered from the Marikina River.

A survey jointly conducted by the Eco-Waste Coalition and Greenpeace
volunteers in 2006 revealed that the extent of plastic bags and other
synthetic packaging materials retrieved from Manila Bay reached 76
percent of the four cubic meters of garbage.

Out of the 76 percent, 51 percent were plastic carry bags, 19 percent
junk food wrappers, and sachets, 5 percent Styrofoam, and one percent
hard plastics.

The rest of the recovered trash, were rubber, 10 percent, and
biodegradable waste, 13 percent.

Better prepared
Malacañang assured that the Aquino administration is doing its best to
prevent the same damage left by Ondoy from occurring in the future.
Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said the Department of
Science and Technology (DoST) is now better prepared in handling such
disaster which resulted in loss of lives and properties particularly
in the National Capital Region.

The state weather bureau, Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and
Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) which is under the DoST,
is now capable of issuing five-day forecasts that can easily be
understood by the public, on top of its daily forecasts.

Disaster prevention
As the nation marks the first anniversary of Ondoy’s onslaught,
authorities are now implementing an aggressive shift of strategy in
the government’s disaster response.

From exerting more efforts on relief and rescue operations, Defense
Secretary and concurrent National Disaster and Coordinating Council
(NDCC) Chairman Voltaire Gazmin said their focus is now more on
disaster prevention.

“We are in the process of fully implementing the mechanisms of a
Disaster Risk Management program, an all encompassing process to shift
from our focus on relief, to being prepared for the probable risks,”
said Gazmin.

Part of the paradigm shift, he said, is to map out all areas that are
at high risk to floods, particularly in densely populated areas in
Metro Manila and urban areas.

Other measures that are continuously being developed, he said, is to
further improve the capability to accurately predict weather
disturbances’ paths and impact, the rapid communication warning and
instructions and the prepositioning of rescue and relief assets in
flood and landslides-prone areas.

“We are currently implementing practical, scientific ways and means to
at least reduce the impact of last year’s tragedy. Mother Nature has
its way of expressing her displeasure and we may have to radically
adapt to extreme weather conditions. We must be prepared for the
unexpected,” said Gazmin.

“We can all avoid turning into hapless victims by becoming aware and
knowledgeable of what to do in times of disasters. We can also prevent
if not reduce the impact of last year’s flash floods by preserving our
environment,” he added.

Gazmin said simple acts of shunning indiscriminate dumping of garbage,
from every small piece of paper or plastic, would be of big help since
it may prevent clogging the sewers.

National survival agenda
Meanwhile, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said it’s not enough to
identify the problem but act to address it even as he called on the
government for the formation of a national survival agenda anchored on
public finance and adaptation to climate change.

“We know about the terrible effects of climate change and we are aware
that its impacts on the Philippines will worsen. Yet, it is simply not
enough to just name the problem," said Enrile. "We need to identify
long-term solutions to the climate crisis along with the means to fund
programs that will allow our people to cope with the rapidly and
dangerously changing climate," Enrile said.

Realizing the real threat of climate change, Enrile called for the
retooling of the national budget to address the vulnerabilities of
Filipino communities facing the projected increase in severity and
frequency of extreme weather events. The Senate President said he is
studying, and will file, a bill “that will create a survival fund for
local governments in anticipation of worsening impacts such as rising
sea levels, intense flooding and extreme precipitation.”

“We must do everything we can to make sure that our communities better
prepared to face calamities which may once again strike the country.
We don't want a repeat of Ondoy. We want to protect lives and our
communities,” he said.


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