Monday, December 21, 2015

Coping with the aftermath

Coping with the aftermath

Typhoon Yolanda was the strongest weather turbulence experienced by Filipinos in living memory. It packed a center wind of 380 kilometers per hour, a fury they never anticipated will completely change their lives. Typhoon Yolanda obliterated the City of Tacloban and the towns of Palo, Tanauan, Tolosa , Dulag, and its path created a wide swath of destruction from Samar, Capiz and as far as Mindoro. In such areas directly hit by the “eye” of the typhoon, the stench of death was everywhere.

While the entire eastern side of the country has yearly been visited by typhoons during the monsoon season, never have people experienced such atmospheric turbulence raised by the weather bureau to typhoon signal number 4. It lashed out tremendous fury leading some conspiracy theorists to speculate that the intensity was the result of man’s tampering of the atmosphere. They say the wrath of Yolanda was an ominous sign of bad things to come, to be wrought by climate change.

Yolanda left unimaginable and incomprehensible devastation. Given that, our duty now is to contribute our share to restore to normal the lives of our people whose houses were either obliterated or had their roofs crumpled like tin foils by the strong gust. Trees that for years were able to withstand the seasonal typhoons were uprooted. Houses sustained considerable damage. People hid in corners, chilling and cringing in fear. All electrical poles and communication structures fell to the ground as if to tell us that the final blow is to push us back to Stone Age.

There was no escape, for even if others were able to secure themselves believing that no strong wind could deliver an uplift to blow them like detached kites, the strong gust generated storm surges causing the sea to rise high above the normal level. People living along the coastlines witnessed how the howling storm pushed waves to rise as high as five meters, demolishing every house along the shoreline, and causing sea water to rush inland inundating residential areas and farmlands. Many could not believe that typhoons could generate waves almost equal to that of an earthquake-triggered tsunami.

Because almost everything was washed away, super typhoon Yolanda reduced the areas that crossed its path into desolated wastelands. In the first two days of the aftermath, people realized that money had no value. Practically, there was no food for people with little savings to buy or for stores to sell food. Groceries and food stores were smothered by the hungry looting mob scouring anything to fill their stomach. The water system broke down. People, they say, could last for days without food, but not if they have no drinking water.

As one observed, although many were appalled at the rampant looting that took place in the badly hit areas, it could not be characterized as a breakdown of law and order. It was plain looting resulting from hunger, and they have to grab anything of value to exchange them for food. In that short instance, the rich and the poor became equal; equal in their need for something to eat, with the rich possibly still having their money but nothing to buy, and the poor seeing more value in food than in having money.

One could see that houses were demolished. Those that managed to withstand the strong winds were without their roofs. In effect, every inhabitant in the affected areas now sleeps without any roof to cover his head. They have to build their makeshift roof to keep them dry from the torrential rains that fall because of the monsoon season. In fact, for almost 24 hours after the rage, Tacloban and nearby towns were completely isolated.

The airport terminal was devastated, communications lines destroyed, the port was littered with debris and boats washed offshore, roads were impassable due to fallen trees, electric poles, and debris, and many bridges were washed away. Everybody wanted to get in touch with his or her relatives, but there were no communications lines to connect them.

As one quipped about what he saw, the Conditional Cash Transfer of Department of Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman momentarily became irrelevant. For the first time, man realized the value of food more than the value of money. For fear that famine, lawlessness and epedemic might break out anytime, especially in the heavily populated area of Tacloban City, almost everybody wants to get out. There is now a mass migration of people wanting to leave, and this is true for the poor who are squatters in their

homeland,. They have nothing now to call their home, even if what was destroyed was in fact a lowly shanty.

A gargantuan task lies ahead of us. We have to unite to extend our help and reassure the survivors that they have not been forgotten. Countries we treated as allies and those we kept our distance from because of misguided political allegiance have exhibited one common denominator – that of compassion for humanity. Human suffering, they say, erases all the barriers of discrimination, bias, and prejudice. It is the only redeeming virtue in humanity.

It is not enough for this government that has fattened itself with a more than P1 trillion pork barrel to send the soldiers to control the unruly crowd, but for it to map out a system that would restore sanity and order in the distribution of relief goods. The distribution of relief goods is most urgent to stabilize the pain of hunger and thirst. At the same time, the government should impose strict price control on food, medicines, fuel and transportation to prevent hoarding and overpricing.

The government should provide construction materials for free to rebuild the devastated area by hiring the victims themselves to reconstruct their own houses. Those who prefer to have their old residential house restored, should be afforded interest-free loans. The Department of Public Works and the Army Corp of Engineers should be mobilized to clear the streets of debris, restore the damaged bridges; and that every public utility operator and telecommunications, including those operating their own power plants, should set aside 20 percent of their manpower to work full time in the devastated areas to restore power, electricity and communications.

These are the little suggestions we offer in their hour of grief and despair; it being our best way to console them possibly with reverential silence.

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