On the eve before supertyphoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) made its first landfall, Philippine President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III went live on prime time television to proudly declare that the government is expecting nothing less than zero casualties.
The government, he said, is prepared for Yolanda. Yet the overwhelming scale of deaths and destruction easily brushes this empty claim aside.
More than a month after Yolanda hit the Philippines, tens of thousands of Filipinos are still in dire need of relief. Many have been left to fend for themselves with no homes, food, water, medicines, electricity.
The official death toll by the national government has climbed to almost 6,000 fatalities. More than 15 million Filipinos are affected in 36 provinces across the Visayas group of islands in the Central Philippines and portions of Luzon and Mindanao.
If anything, the grave lack of preparedness in the face of one of the strongest typhoons in history and the wanton incompetence of the relief and rescue operations leads to one conclusion. Yolanda was a man-made disaster just waiting to happen.
Incompetent Disaster Response
The supertyphoon led to a total breakdown of the local government in many areas in the Eastern Visayan provinces in the islands of Samar and Leyte.
Yet the Aquino government’s relief and rescue operations for Yolanda victims came too slowly. For the most part, the people were left to fend for themselves.
It thus comes as no surprise at all that the lack of food and water led to the eruption of chaos as hungry and thirsty survivors began to scour for provisions among the ruins of Tacloban City and other towns.
This miserable state of affairs led United Nations humanitarian chief Valerie Amos to comment six days into the tragedy that the situation is dismal with many extremely desperate for help.
“We need to get assistance to them now. They are already saying it has taken too long to arrive. Ensuring a faster delivery is our immediate priority,” she said.
But instead of rushing the arrival of relief goods in the affected communities, the deployment of police and military men was prioritized in order to protect the sanctity of private property.
President Aquino declared a “State of National Calamity” after four long days. Yet the same sorry condition and blatant disregard of the people’s plight would continue for a long time.
Negligent Disaster Preparations
Even before Yolanda hit the country, the government’s disaster preparations were already marred by major shortcomings.
According to Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE) national coordinator Clemente Bautista, the preparations for the storm surges brought by Yolanda were clearly insufficient.
These storm surges have been reported to reach 20 feet high in some places and may likely have caused the massive death toll,” said Bautista.
Proper evacuation plans and structurally secure evacuation centers were lacking.
There were many reports of packed evacuation centers collapsing because of Yolanda’s impact, and also flooding within the evacuation centers, further adding to the casualties,” he said.
The deficient preparations for the government’s own emergency communications systems later on hampered disaster response efforts.
This was apparent in the bogging down of their own communication lines that could have been solved by using simple satellite phones or a UHF radio system,” Bautista said.
Blame Game and Cover-Ups
As if these were not enough, instead of admitting its weaknesses the Aquino government instead began blaming political rivals and covering-up the actual death toll and extent of devastation.
President Aquino blamed the local governments for the problems in the disaster response efforts. Local governments of Tacloban City and Leyte Province belonging to the opposition are being investigated for their supposed poor handling of the response to Yolanda.
From the very beginning, the Aquino government sought to downplay the number of deaths. The president denied estimates by local officials that the death toll may reach as high as 10,000 and insisted that the fatalities will not go beyond 2,000.
“They were too close to incident. They did not have basis for it,” said President Aquino. The police chief who made this estimate was later on sacked from his position.
Forensic expert Dr. Raquel Fortun’s also put the Aquino government to task for requiring a “coroner’s certification” before adding a dead body to the official death toll to make the situation look less tragic.
Fortun spent five days in typhoon affected areas to assist in the identification of the dead but pulled out after a reported conflict with police officials from the National Bureau of Investigation.
Yet whatever cosmetics and public relations gimmicks that the Aquino government will conjure can never conceal the stark realities of hunger, thirst,
disease, and homelessness that many are forced to suffer because of its criminal incompetence.
Months and even years are needed in order for the Yolanda survivors to recover their homes as well as rehabilitate the crops, farm animals, agricultural lands, and fishing areas damaged by the supertyphoon.
Roots of Man-Made Disaster
In the end, it is the predatory drive for profit and conspicuous consumption by the world’s monopoly capitalist elites that is at the root of this man-made disaster. Their insatiable hunger of profit demands the environmental plunder and generate waste that goes beyond the capacity of the planet to sustain.
Greenhouse gases emissions from the industrialized countries has caused ecological imbalances that create more frequent, stronger, and deadlier supertyphoons. Bound to poverty, it is the workers, peasants, and other toiling masses who are most vulnerable to the worse effects of natural calamities.
This is further aggravated by the Aquino government’s programs and policies that actively invite big foreign corporations to conduct large-scale mining operations, logging, and other activities that plunder the country’s cheap labor and natural resources.
For the disaster response youth network Tulong Kabataan, the Aquino government must be held accountable for its blatant neglect and incompetence which resulted in the disregard of many lives.
“Yolanda is the strongest storm to hit our nation, but it appears the Aquino government’s inaction is the bigger disaster,” the group said.
Given the scale of the deaths and destruction brought about by Yolanda, all the help that the people’s of the world can give for the relief and rehabilitation of the affected communities is necessary.
Ultimately, overcoming the unjust and environmentally-destructive social order is the only way to prevent a repetition of the Yolanda disaster.