Photo by Erik de Castro/Reuters

The question is a familiar one which Vladimir Lenin asked about the people’s revolution, which laid the grounds and framework to pursue the proletarian cause of establishing a people’s state that holds the mode of production against capitalism. The question is rhetorical and indeed an intelligent one that emphasizes taking control of the situation. The same applies in the critical examination of the people’s actions towards natural disasters.

After a few days of continuous rain, the monsoon rains devastated Luzon with floods and landslides. Now, the water has subsided in most areas, and this is not the first time that the country has experienced massive destruction – inundation to some others. The heavy rains and flooding put the Philippine’s disaster risk reduction management centers into test, that came more urgent when Ondoy flooded Metro Manila and adjacent provinces in 2009.  It also tested, the effectiveness of the government’s project NOAH or the Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazard just recently in placed.

While households pick up the fragments of what is left  in the floodwater, it is but high time to put forward solutions from the littlest things individuals could do and communities could contribute, and the systematic efforts institutions both private and public could share.  Nobody wants to be submerged under water. Nobody wants to starve under a disaster. Nobody wants to lose a family member. Nobody wants to see a house torn by the raging floodwater.

Everyone needs safety and security. Hence, disaster risk reduction and management are vital to everyone.  This has to take into consideration that the country is no more dealing with the usual type of disaster. The weather system has significantly changed. More volume of rains are expected, massive expanse of flooding in low lying areas, higher sea levels, greater winds, stronger quakes. Meteorological and geological statistics would tell that one natural event is like trying to beat another in the past.

A government spokesperson from project NOAH, said it best that disaster risks are higher because people are there. This does not mean that people should perish, but when people are in the middle of a disaster and are not being able to manage the situation well, the risks are higher. A disaster is a calamity man-made or natural. Risks include undesirable implications, to health, security, livelihood, properties and to life itself.  Weather disturbances can be disastrous due to lack of preparation, untoward behavior towards risks and poor response to the situation. However, nature is nature; people need to learn its behavior in order to respond to it appropriately.

The problem is bigger than the flood

Climate change is a bigger thing to consider in the disaster risk reduction and management systems. In both, everyone has something to learn and contribute. Everyone includes the individual in the community, the private and government sectors and the civil society. Climate change is an integral factor that explains why disasters get worst and more expansive. Whatever effort, in disaster risk reduction and management  is unlikely to succeed, if they fail to recognize the impact of climate change.

The fact cannot be zeroed out from the vocabulary of human society’s survival. Science may be politicized, information can be distorted, but the reality is everyone in the world has become vulnerable to the risks of having extreme weather. The Philippines had only monsoon rains, not a typhoon like Ondoy, but that extreme behavior of nature caught the country unexpecting of devastation it brought to Luzon.

Resolving the problem, that people caused the environment for them to suffer the consequences brought about by climate change, can not be completed in a day, or even in a century. Generations upon generations will meet the increasing wrath of natural disasters, until global scale efforts are set in place. With climate change, the times people live now is the most uncertain. Scary, yes, but that is likelier to happen until genuine concern for life and sanctity of the natural environment become ingrained in the consciousness of every individual in this world.

Now the worst is not over yet. The flood waters have subsided, many people have suffered from it. What good thing this flood gave some people is a sense of commitment to care for the environment, to be responsible in their actions, and to considers some easy but helpful things not to add to the burgeoning climate change. These include not using plastic, properly throwing their trash, recycling and planting trees. These are contributions everyone can do, but the problem is greater than this.

As to the floods, experts see three contributing factors: poor flood control systems, obstructions in waterways, and forest degradation. Flooding is a perennial problem in the country, dating back to the early times when communities started to build permanent structures in the land, and even beyond it. Basic knowledge of ecology informs about the relations of  human actions to the environment in general, and that all elements in nature are interdependent.

Cut the trees from their roots, and that soil will be washed away by the rain. The rain water will just flow down the lowland for no roots suck it up eroding the mountain soil to cover up the lowland. The smudge will go to the rivers blocking the water flow, and will find its way to the houses nearby. Satisfy yourself with material things you would throw later on, and you build mountains of trash. To cover those waste, people rake earth from the mountains, and toxic spills to the ground, killing other life that used to keep the mountain green. Throw your waste anywhere and you’ll find them coming back to you with the floodwater.

Individuals can do their share in keeping an eco-friendly lifestyle. Every household can plant and keep a tree in the backyard. Household waste can be reduced and reused creatively. Use of electricity and vehicles can be minimized. Communities can organized campaigns to raise the awareness of the residents into a critical consciousness to proactively take actions towards keeping a greener environment. Businesses should be more responsible in putting up infrastructures taking a greener perspective into design and function. The government must ensure that environmental protection laws are implemented, and that disaster risk reduction and management becomes part of its priority.

The solutions to prevent flooding are tied to the solutions to solve the problem of climate change and so with urban development planning. They are not just a product of a single mind. It is a collaborative output, where everyone contributes. Disaster risk reduction and management at a grand scale must consider the changes in the climate while ensuring the protection of life and livelihood and the safety of everyone. Thus the effort to resolve the issue in flooding is multilateral – everyone has a share.

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