Sliding from One Disaster to AnotherBy Philip Dominguez Mercurio
It’s deja vu all over again. When it comes down to our islands against the elements, in this case heavy downpours, we always seem to get knocked out.
On network news, the Guinsaugon mudslide looked like a big muddy hand had come down from the mountainside, slamming into the lust farmland below, grabbing everything and everyone into its fold. Boulders - the size of small cars - were strewn about, mixed with a layer of mud a few stories high. Soldiers in gear toiled about in the muck picking off lifeless bodies from the desolate earth. It was one of those sights you wanted to turn your eyes away from but couldn’t since this is our country. Those are our people.
Now, you’d think our country had enough already. Eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis - as part of the “Ring of Fire,” our country is ripe with disasters galore. On top of that, the Philippines sits at the edge of the Western Pacific, the most prolific region in the world for cyclone formation. So, the last thing we should be worried about would be a rainstorm.
The last time something similar to this happened, I was already wondering when the next slide will strike. I was praying that it wouldn’t of course but I wasn’t alone in my ugly suspicion. After that disaster, editorials back home complained how the campaign for reforestation would begin in earnest but usually ended with a whimper. Another landside occurring apparently wasn’t a matter of if -- but when.
Now, here we are - faced with another disaster on the world stage and eerie signs point that this catastrophe may have been helped along by man’s doing. It’s sad really - for it likely means that it could have been prevented. Millions of dollars of funds weren’t necessary to build an expensive levee system like it was for New Orleans. Nor was this a totally instantaneous disaster that nobody really could have predicted or get ready for like the 2005 tsunami (According to the New York Times, the government had known about the dangers posed at Guinsaugon since last May). Perhaps all that was needed was preserving much of the hillside like it was before the logging and coconut plantations had destabilized the area.
But I think, as recent events in the barangay of Guinsaugon have shown, the Philippines has passed the point of no return. Whether or not this was the ramifications of years of illegal logging back then, reforestation with trees with inadequate root systems or just a number of unfortunate events accumulating at the same time, the fact reminds: the danger is present now in many parts of the country and therefore, there must be someway to address it.
Long term measures such as studies investigating ways to reduce the number of landsides, what trees would hold saturated hills more sufficiently in such unstable volcanic areas would be great. But better yet, to save more lives in the now, it is better we be realistic and assume the present trend will continue and that these killer landslides are here to stay.
Therefore, the network in place monitoring the conditions of all the hills close to populated vicinities must be improved drastically. Such a system should resemble the way volcanic activity is monitored or earthquakes are continuously observed. Landslide watches and warnings should be created akin to those handed out by NOAA for floods and flash floods, in order to sufficiently warn high-risk communities while evacuation routes must be clearly marked on roads and highways to execute such warning swiftly and orderly. Such warnings should be firmly heeded and governments must issue them and then enforce them to the fullest of their ability.
If not enough vigilance is used to enforce such warnings, people would become wary of them and catastrophe would likely be just around the bend. This is exactly what happened this time around. Those safeguards failed and the results were disastrous.
And now, with the country’s population skyrocketing, the increasing population density would squeeze even more people into small land areas already densely populated. This would force even more people to look for more habitable space and likely much of it along these condemned uphill regions increasing the likelihood such landslides would become perilous.
So the time is now to get those safeguards in place - for unlike tsunamis, earthquakes or volcanoes, these events don’t just happen once in a blue moon. They could happen every time it rains – which can be a seasonal occurrence in the Philippines. - PDM
See this article,"Sliding from One Disaster to Another" in Philippine News. Click here.