Sunday, October 25, 2009

Lessons from the flood

Ondo is a term of endearment in the Visayas. Modify the ending – and Ondoy becomes even cute.
Typhoon Ondoy, however, was neither endearing nor cute. Leaving in its aftermath the worst flooding in Metro Manila and its environs in 40 years, Ondoy was a nightmare of death and destruction. A month’s volume of rain had fallen in a period of 9 hours and much of this water had nowhere to go.
A well-researched article by Gemma Mendoza (“Flooding in Metro, Who is to Blame”) notes: “Climate change, population pressure, and the fact that proper urban planning is bogged down by politics and corruption in government exacerbates matters. And even without these factors…about a fifth (of) Metro Manila, is naturally flood prone.” There is a confluence of factors.
The article cites a study showing that floods in Metro Manila have become more numerous and destructive. Ground water extraction, population pressures, and erosion due to rampant logging and quarrying in the outskirts of the metropolis have contributed to the situation. Siltation has reduced the water-holding capacity of Laguna de Bay by as much as 64 percent.
Garbage clogs the natural passageways (“esteros”) of water with 21 thousand squatter families living in these areas and urban dwellers daily dumping the equivalent of 600 truckloads of garbage in these waterways. Many private subdivisions, commercial buildings, and even schools clog or alter these waterways.
Poverty, human irresponsibility, greed, and poor choices – as much as topography and climate change – have to do with the recent calamity.
It is no mere coincidence that the first 11 chapters of Genesis talks about God’s original plan and the beginnings and spread of sin; and that chapter 7-9 deal with Noah and the great flood. Man’s brokenness spills over into nature. St. Paul notes this when he writes that “the world itself will be freed from its slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. Yes, we know that all creation groans and is in agony even until now” (Romans 8: 21-22). Human enslavement and freedom find expression in and with the environment.
Man’s intrinsic connection with the earth is the context of last Sunday’s reading from Genesis 2. Man (“adam”), derived and formed from humus (“adamah”), is painstakingly and loving fashioned by God. Man has godlike powers when is asked to give names to other creatures. Out of his ribs comes a suitable partner. From the soil, to other living beings, and to other human beings – we are all part of a web of relationships that need to be respected and nurtured.
The flood offers many lessons. A nation of compassionate people may be emerging, one sharing a common experience of pain and suffering but one that is also beginning to understand, reason, and act together in the face of crises. Only a truly loving, concerted, and decisive response – already seen in the stories of heroism and inspiring action in the spirit of volunteerism – from all of us, can mitigate such disasters.
Yet such crisis-driven volunteerism is only the first step. Daily acts of good citizenship and good leadership are needed – with our Christian faith to fuel and sustain our efforts. Only then will other Ondoys be tamed. Only then will we build a nation.

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