MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Disasters And Faulty Governance

Published by MAC on 2006-10-22

Disasters and Faulty Governance

"Development aggression" and "globalization" have contributed to the destruction of the country's ecosystem (considered one of the richest in the world), traditional protective barriers and once self-sustaining economies that used to enable the people to withstand even the most destructive calamities. Today, they spread horror, despair and hopelessness to high-risk communities across the country.


Posted by Bulatlat, Vol. VI, No. 35 -

Oct. 8 - 14, 2006

The devastation to people's lives and the economy wrought by the two recent major disasters should no longer be seen as a problem best left to government's disaster coordinating officials alone. Serious flaws in government's economic development priorities and faulty public governance have only led to the increase in the vulnerability of people and communities to calamities and, worse, in bigger number of lives lost and hopes for a better life shattered.

Question is, has the government been jolted out of complacency or gone beyond merely declaring affected provinces as "calamity areas" by undertaking bold policy reform? Is there really nothing that can be done to protect people's lives and their livelihood from future disasters?

In just a month, the Philippines was struck by two major calamities: The Guimaras oil slick, which hit several western Visayas coastal provinces third week of August, and Typhoon Milenyo, which devastated Luzon provinces including Metro Manila on Sept. 28. Being the world's fourth most disaster-prone country (after China, India and Iran) and also fourth in the number of persons killed or injured by calamities, such disasters, whether natural as in the case of Typhoon Milenyo, or man-made in the Guimaras tragedy, are often taken as nothing new.

Some alarming trends cry for attention, however. The impact of disasters, including typhoons, floods, monsoon rains, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and landslides has worsened in recent years. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies report that some 5.9 million Filipinos were killed or injured as a result of natural or man-made calamities in 10 years (1992-2001). That's already about 5 percent of the country's current population.

The rising toll on human lives can also be attributed to the increase in the reported number of disaster incidents in the country: From 199 in 2001 it leaped to 313 in 2002 and 384 in 2005. The non-government Citizens' Disaster Response Center (CDRC) reports that the number of persons affected by disasters or calamities in 2005 was 528,151 families or 2.6 million individuals. In January-September this year alone, however, the total has reached 584,607 families or 3 million persons.

The CDRC report does not include the recent damage caused by Typhoon Milenyo: 200 deaths as of Oct. 3, 1.3 million people displaced including 171,000 evacuees and about 43 million kept in the dark by widespread power blackouts.


Flashfloods account for the biggest number of persons uprooted: In 2005, the total reached 344,378 families or 1.8 million individuals or half the total number directly displaced by all disasters that year, based on CDRC monitoring.

The CDRC adds drought, fires, red tide, fish kill, epidemic outbreak, infestation, tornado and armed conflicts in its disaster monitoring. Not included are other man-made disasters such as sea, air and road mishaps as well as oil spills.

Normally, government reports measure the impact of disasters based on economic losses, the number of persons killed or uprooted and damage to infrastructure, among others. Over-attention to quantifiable effects, however, tends to gloss over other indicators of impact that are often far-reaching and which are lost in the bureaucratic maze of government intervention - or lack of it. These include long-term effects on livelihood and employment, health, nutrition, education and other social and psychological impact that only the keen and compassionate policy maker is able to detect.

For instance, Central Luzon still reels from the impact of the Mt. Pinatubo volcanic eruption 15 years ago notably due to mudflows that inundate farms, fishponds and whole villages. Among other reasons, income losses and destruction to farms have made the region one of the leading generators of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). This only shows that the more disasters strike every year the bigger the army of OFWs will leave the country that, in turn, will result in a bigger number of families torn apart or suffering long separation with breadwinners aside from other unimaginable social costs.

And yet all these and other problems can be stopped or at least prevented or mitigated.

Rise in people's vulnerability

The reason why the number of families, communities, lands and other productive resources affected by calamities, whether natural or man-made, has increased at alarming rates lately is because of the rise in their level of vulnerability. Contributing to the increase of vulnerability to disasters are poverty and unemployment, lack of land and shelter, lack of food security, poor access to health and other social services, and so on.

Big populations who face higher risks during disasters owing to their dire social and economic conditions are in the rural provinces especially those living near or on uplands, near logging and mining areas, coastal areas and other farm communities. In the cities, they are the urban poor who are forced to live by the riverbanks and coasts, under the bridges or beside waste dumps. And all these are high-risk disaster zones.

In fact the whole Philippine archipelago including its seas and marine grounds is a potential disaster area. This explains why of late whenever a major disaster happens - like the Guimaras oil slick - whole regions or one of the country's three major islands are declared "calamity areas." Natural disasters such as typhoons are obviously unavoidable but the hazards they as well as man-made calamities pose to populations and communities have been aggravated by flawed "economic development" policies and laws that have also become, coincidentally speaking, the culprit behind man-made disasters.

Except for a few small zones, for instance, the whole country has been stripped of its forests due to unmitigated logging and mining operations that, for several decades, have only benefited a few families and transnational corporations. Foreign-funded dams that were built purportedly to provide power for industries and irrigation for large farm estates now disgorge flashfloods that submerge whole provinces and ruin their economies.

The Mining Act of 1995, which the Arroyo government implemented last year in full swing, will subject 13 million hectares or 45 percent of the country's land area to mining exploration and extraction. Justified by Mrs. Arroyo as urgent in order to address the government's fiscal crisis, the Act will result in the large-scale displacement of communities and in the destruction of lands, deforestation and the flattening of mountains, erosions, siltations, desertification, pollution of rivers and marine life, and other ecological damages. In areas where new mining operations have started, disaster incidents have taken place including the spread of toxic pollutants and flashfloods.

Definitely, something is wrong when government economic programs are crafted principally to address the fiscal crisis and debt servicing regardless of their grim effects on people and their livelihood. State policies are aligned to international credit institutions' impositions and preferences for extractive production and commercial exportation while prying the domestic market wider for cheap imports at the expense of the country's farmers and other small producers. All these contribute to the further marginalization of the people and, consequently, to their exposure to disasters.

There are so-called "safety nets" that claim to minimize the adverse effects of corporate greed, development and infrastructure projects but the series of moratoriums on logging and mining, environment impact assessments, sustainable resource management, building codes, transportation safety measures and, not to forget, billboard advertising codes are followed more in breach.

"Development aggression" and "globalization," based on UNDP and World Bank reports, has only aggravated the country's poverty and widened the income gaps between the poor and rich. What these reports forget, however, is the destruction to the livelihood, property, lands and water resources, nay, the future of generations of Filipinos that such policies and laws have wrought making the nation's poor in worse shape and unable to shield themselves anymore from natural and man-made disasters. "Development aggression" and "globalization" have contributed to the destruction of the country's ecosystem (considered one of the richest in the world), traditional protective barriers and once self-sustaining economies that used to enable the people to withstand even the most destructive calamities. Today, they spread horror, despair and hopelessness to high-risk communities across the country. Posted by Bulatlat

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