OF TREES AND FOREST
It’s heartbreaking to see the devastation brought about by typhoon “Odette.” According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), the reported death toll has risen to 31. This is expected to increase as communication lines open and government workers reach far-flung areas. As of press time the provincial government of Bohol has already reported a death toll of 50; Negros Occidental, 28 and, Cebu, 13. There were a number of injuries and some still missing. Property and infrastructure also suffered heavy damage. It is made more saddening because Christmas and New Year are approaching and the victims wonder what is in store for them and their loved ones in the future.
The first thing we need to do is make sure the immediate needs of the affected communities are taken care of. They need temporary shelter, food, water, medicine, and blankets. They also need face masks as evacuation centers have the potential to be superspreaders given limited space. More than 300,000 people have been displaced from their homes. In terms of rescue and relief, government need to be flexible and quick in giving aid to the victims because time is of the essence.
President Rodrigo Duterte has inspected the affected areas and saw for himself the damage brought about by the typhoon. He has also promised to find funds to help the victims while noting that funds are scarce since it was used for our country’s COVID response. It is absolutely imperative that government find the money to help the victims. National government should be able to help local governments respond to this tragedy.
But beyond government, the private sector, civil society organizations and even individuals should pool together resources in order to help our kababayans. We have seen this in past calamities, sometimes the private sector despite limited resources has been more efficient in mobilizing help to those in need. We have shown in the past that we can go beyond our petty differences and unite for a worthy cause. And right now, I see no cause more worthy than making sure that those who need help receive the assistance they need.
This is not the time to tear each other apart. This is not the time for partisanship. This is the time to act as one people helping those in need. I have no doubt that the Filipinos will respond to this call for unity as they have done in the past. I have lived long enough to have seen many disasters that have hit our country and time and again, our people have shown their generosity and kindness.
While the immediate need is rescue and relief, we should start thinking about what happens next. Rehabilitation and reconstruction are critical aspects of government’s response to disasters. Long after the news crews have left the disaster area, the people affected are left there to pick up the pieces. We need to provide them with the tools to rebuild their lives and their communities.
But it is not just a matter of rebuilding what was lost rather it should be rebuilding communities that are more resilient. We need to design houses and local infrastructure to withstand strong typhoons and floods. It is going to cost us but it is costlier to go through the cycle of rebuilding after natural disasters again and again. In fact, we should revisit the debate that occurred after Yolanda, and ask some hard questions — should we relocate people who live in high-risk areas such as those prone to flooding and storm surges?
But the most important component of any rebuilding efforts is livelihood. These affected communities will not have a steady source of income for some time. As local government begins the process of rebuilding the local economy, they should provide support for entrepreneurial initiatives. Provide those affected with easy access to financial resources, training and all kinds of support. This should be a central component of any economic recovery blueprint.
Let us do our best to help those affected by typhoon Odette. If you ever wonder what makes Christmas meaningful, it is this — bringing joy and hope to those who need it most. Here’s to a compassionate, kindhearted Christmas.