Monday, February 20, 2006

Dealing with Disaster

The news from Southern Leyte is both horrendous and depressing; it is difficult to find words befitting the suffering. It is not the first, and unfortunately probably not the last time, that such calamities strike this country. In this regard also, the Philippines belongs to the less fortunate group of nations.

As the rescue operations continue and brave men from far and near race against time hoping to pull survivors out of the piles of mud, it seems too early for a serious debate on how this could happen, and who – if anyone at all - will be made accountable.

When this public debate begins, I hope it will go beyond the level of “analysis” offered in today’s issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. The leading paper editorializes that the organized reaction to the landslide “has been disciplined, proportionate, and on target.”

The writer also searchers for the perceived causes of the calamity:

“Ours is still a religious nation, so it is only to be expected that both public discourse and private conversation have touched on the threshold question: How can God, or Allah, or Providence allow something like this to happen?”

I respect, even admire, the religiosity of many Filipinos. In this specific case, however, religious fatalism boils down to negligence and a lack of responsibility. Unlike other natural disasters (last year’s tsunami for instance), the deadly impact of the landslide at Guinsaugon could have been reduced if not averted by human action.

Geologists, environmentalists and other concerned citizens had warned again and again about the hazards of living in that area. It should have been the responsibility of a responsible government (both local and national) to tell the people to get out (and stay out) of harms way.

But maybe that is expecting too much of the political class.

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