Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mindfully Greenie "Have we learned from Ondoy?"

On Sept. 26 last year, typhoon “Ondoy” inflicted havoc on hundreds of
thousands of lives and damaged billions of pesos worth of properties.
While the Philippines is a “natural laboratory” for calamities, the
severity of the effects and the extent of destruction brought by Ondoy
were unprecedented. It revealed one glaring fact – we were simply not
prepared to respond to the disastrous effects of climate change.

Government agencies were (and still are) sorely lacking in rescue
equipment, and relied on the private sector and big non-government
organizations for assistance. There was no clear-cut delineation of
functions in disaster management between central and local government
units. The hapless victims and the constituents clearly did not have
the capacity to cope with the catastrophe.

What saved the day then was the massive outpouring of support from the
youth and civil society – always our knights in shining armor when our
ship is perilously close to sinking.

The swift action of the committed citizenry brought hope to the
victims and their families and even to those ready to write off the
country as being close to self-destruction.

We should not forget that the same vigor and enthusiasm of our
volunteers worked again in the May elections. Despite the influx of
funds from moneyed candidates, the people chose to elect a new
administration that promised to strengthen the weakened institutions
and restore our trust in the credibility-ravaged political system.

One year after the tragedy, two laws were passed as our nation’s
response to climate change: R.A. 9729, the Philippine Climate Change
Act of 2009 and R.A. 10121 or the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction
and Management Act of 2010. Have these legislative enactments made a
dent in instilling a sense of urgency in the minds of stakeholders,
especially our local government units, to enable our people to respond
to the hazards of climate change and protect our threatened
ecosystems? Except perhaps for Albay Province, we have yet to hear of
concrete programs of LGUs towards the integration of climate change
and disaster risk reduction and management.

Clearly, government’s misplaced priorities, projects incongruous with
sustainable development and the people’s apathy aggravated Ondoy’s
impacts. LGUs are still hung up on projects that are clearly
unsustainable and irrelevant in the era of climate crisis.

Mention must be made that in Cebu, there are planned reclamation
projects in Talisay City and Cordova and another project in Camotes
Island, through a House Bill to reduce, instead of increasing the
protected wildlife areas since they act as carbon sinks – all for the
sake of “economic development.”

Never mind if the scientists are already raising the clarion call for
action to protect our much-threatened biodiversity. The International
Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared that the Philippines
now ranks 10th in the world with the most number of threatened species
with 641 species found to be either critically endangered, endangered
or vulnerable.

Perry Alino of the University of the Philippines Marine Science
Institute and his peers, are alarmed at the massive coral bleaching in
our seas. Alino said “The threat is real and the future for our coral
reefs is at great risk and this rich legacy can be lost if we remain
inactive to this crisis.” (Inquirer, Sept. 6).

Bill Granert of the Soil and Water Conservation Foundation laments
that the bleaching “will start a chain reaction in the complex food
web of the reef. The result will probably be a drop in populations of
fish, shellfish and other organisms. This will adversely affect the
protein content of many Filipinos who rely on seafood for these
sources. This also includes the upland dwellers who eat dried fish and
other products from the ocean.”

When we allow our dwindling forests to be annihilated, the seas to be
overfished, protected areas to be exploited and even reduced, water to
be contaminated, septic tanks to be created out of our rivers and
waterways, use and toss plastics anywhere except in our sparklingly
clean homes, and leave communities unprepared to respond to climate
change, then we have not learned the lessons from Ondoy.

Ondoy was a wake-up call for us to embrace conservation and
sustainability as a way of life and as our response to climate change.

One year after the tragedy, have we realized that the key to our
development as a nation lies, not in reliance on the endless promises
of our politicians, but in the still vastly untapped reservoir of
talent, skills and resources of our people?

Now is the perfect time to ask ourselves if we are willing to continue
to be the active stakeholders that we all should be, especially in the
climate-challenged world we are in – and not just when disaster
strikes and pushes us to the edge.

If we did not care if our country was and still is considered a haven
for endemic species of flora and fauna which are considered by
scientists as a “global heritage,” it is never too late.

Let us be like Bianca Nicole Villamor, a child who cares about her
future and who reached out to the environmental lawyers to be trained
so that “that my words and actions will be more effective in helping
care for the environment and bring change to our dying world.”

It is time for swift action to protect and conserve our threatened
ecosystems. We join our colleagues from the EcoWaste Coalition and the
Save Sierra Madre Network (SSMN) in pushing for the campaign to
declare Sept. 26 every year as “Save Sierra Madre Day.” The mountain
needs to be protected from further devastation. If Sierra Madre were
only left untouched by illegal logging and destructive practices, it
is possible that Ondoy’s impact would have been minimized.


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