Floods in Manila, 2009. Photo: Sustainable Sanitation, under a CC License.
Again, the rains came like a curse, as they did the year before, and for many years before that, sometimes a few weeks before Christmas. A curse to anyone who cherishes their families and the embrace of loved ones.
There was no lack of warnings, but nothing can predict that in a single spit of the grey skies, one can lose it all.
On 5 December 2012, tropical cyclone Pablo (international name Bopha) struck in the southern part of the Philippines, leaving hundreds dead or missing in the provinces of Compostela Valley, Davao Oriental and Surigao del Sur.
As I write this, survivors are searching amid the maddening stench of death, beneath the rubble, plodding down muddied roads and piles of logs and scouring evacuation centre in the hope of finding their missing loved ones.
In Compostela Valley, there is a man named Dante, writes journalist Patricia Evangelista in an article published by online news site Rappler, who is missing 18 family members including his wife, children and sister-in-law. And there are hundreds of others like Dante, hoping against hope to find their missing kin.
According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, the government agency that responds to such disasters, the death toll from Pablo has risen to 647 and counting. A total of 780 people are still missing.
Many residents in affected areas heeded the warnings but the wrath of nature knows no limits.
‘Mining and logging may have had an effect,’ the country’s civil defence chief Benito Ramos told Agence France Press. He said the mountains are filled with holes brought about by mining.
Illegal goldmining activities in the town of Compostela Valley, and illegal logging, continue to exist in the Philippines because of corporate greed and government corruption. There are also small-scale miners in New Bataan, a town in Compostela Valley which struggles to make a living digging out gold and is one of the worst-hit by the flooding.
Such disasters set the Philippines back each time.
In an interview with New Internationalist, Philippine Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima said one typhoon can have a massive impact on the country: ‘We may have a good year but one typhoon can set us back,’ he lamented.
Purisima, chief of the government economic team, says that as far as climate change is concerned, it is high time that the government focus on its policy decisions.
As the floods hit the Philippines, nations were discussing a new deal to fight global warming at the Doha international climate talks.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement, however, that a new deal that seeks to fight global warming is only a first step and that governments must do ‘far more’ to stop rising temperatures.
In the meantime, while countries discuss how to address the issue of climate change, here in the Philippines the victims will continue to search for their missing loved ones.
And they will keep on searching. And searching. Amid the stench of death and beneath the layers and layers of soot and mud.