It was billed as Ondoy-Ketsana, which is O-K, only it wasn’t. Ketsana-Ondoy is more appropriate because it was a walloping K-O that this tropical storm unleashed on the Philippines, akin to what Manny Pacquiao inflicted on Ricky Hatton last May. Only much, much worse.
The photos of the devastation in the hard-hit areas of Metro Manila were harrowing and heart-wrenching: shanties shattered and shorn of whatever little dignity they started with; children wet and shivering, their hapless parents looking fear-stricken and ever more helpless; emaciated animals either dead or scampering; cars and trucks submerged, upended or piled on top of each other; and all sorts of human detritus -- cheap roofing materials, clapboards, furniture and fixtures, textiles and clothes, children's toys, and varying implements of daily living -- strewn all over, pleading to be picked up and cleaned.
And all these against a backdrop of brown, murky water seemingly everywhere, the motif dominant beneath an ominously gray sky, lurking and threatening to unleash yet more pain with more rain.
With water everywhere, the cruel irony is that the aftermath will highlight the very serious problem of lack of water. Clean water, that is, because water reservoirs, water treatment plants, pipes, tanks, and underground wells could not have escaped severe damage or contamination due to the storm.
With the death toll so far rising to more than 300, more deaths are expected in the ensuing months because of diseases related to unsafe water and poor sanitation. With muck, garbage, toxic chemicals, human waste, and God knows what else, all mixed up in this unprecedented massive flood which almost submerged the entire Metro Manila, the next likely chapter is dealing with diseases like typhoid, diarrhea and cholera.
Typhoid and cholera outbreaks occur where water supplies and sanitation are inadequate. People get sick after ingesting water or food that has been contaminated by the feces of infected persons. As always, children are the most vulnerable: according to theWorld Health Organization, on a regular basis, 84% of water-related deaths are in children ages 0 to 14, and about 43% of water-related deaths are due to diarrhea alone.
Not counting the psychological trauma that accompanies every disaster of this magnitude, the damage to private property, public infrastructure, crops and vegetation, and the costs to the economy as a whole, are immense and are still being tallied. The task is monumental. The early figures are out but are grossly understated. Many of the big companies are hobbled, but worse, many small businesses will be closed for good. Tens of thousands of the formerly employed will remain formerly employed.
The images of devastation make the comparison to Katrina easy, but Katrina was a super cyclone (tropical storm 4) while Ketsana-Ondoy was only a baby storm (tropical storm 1). And yet more rain water poured into Metro Manila in 12 hours onSeptember 26 than would normally fall in a whole month in the rainy season, more than what Seattle would experience in total from September through December. Marikina, the hardest hit Metro Manila city, has almost twice the population of New Orleans and is 23 times more dense per square mile.
How did a baby storm cause so much damage? According to Neal Cruz, “the unprecedented amount of rain... caused the rivers to swell and dam reservoirs to fill up. Water had to be released from the dams to prevent the pressure of water from breaking them. This water released from the reservoirs swelled the rivers downstream, causing them to overflow their banks and flood surrounding areas. With the creeks and rivers overflowing with water, there was no place for the rain water to go. So they went to the streets and to the houses and yards of low-lying villages.”
Because this was the “mother of all disasters”, the Philippines needs international help as it has never needed before. The European Community donated 2 million euros ($2.5M), with Germany adding an additional $500,000. Australia came through with $1M, Japan with $220,000 and China with $160,000. But of all the responses so far, the US has been the most underwhelming, with a donation of a measly $100,000 -- a pittance and a source of shame for the 4 million Filipinos in America.
At the end of the day, however, it will boil down to us, Filipinos of all stripes and colors, wherever located and however situated in life, to pull together and help our Motherland and our kababayans get back on their feet.
Below are 10 suggestions on how we can help the Philippines:
1. Get involved with any effort to help the Philippines. Engage your friends, Filipinos or not, and use your networks -- school, church, work, social, familial, Facebook, Twitter or Myspace. If you live in the SF-Bay Area, attend the regular weekly community task force meetings on Wednesdays at 7 pm at the Philippine Consulate. If there is no organized group in your community, create one.
2. Contact the White House (202-456-1111 or www.whitehouse.gov), the US Department of State (202-647-6575 orwww.state.gov), and your local Senator & Congressman (www.house.gov), and tell them that the US's $100K donation is pitifully small and that the US needs to give more.
3. Contact a relative or friend in the Philippines who needs help and send whatever money you can spare to that relative/friend and his/her family.
4. Send canned goods, camping equipment, clothes, blankets, flashlights, transistor radios or anything that might be useful, bring them to your local Philippine Consulate or to LBC and its 60 branch offices throughout the US.
5. Send money to the Philippine National Red Cross (redcross.org.ph), Ayala Foundation USA (af-usa.org), ABS-CBN Foundation (abscbnfoundation.org), Gawad Kalinga (ancopusa.org) or other reputable organizations that have set up operations to provide relief aid to the Philippines.
6. Ask your employer to set up a matching fund to match what you and your fellow employees can raise to send to the Philippines.
7. Ask your church to set up a special collection to raise funds to send to the affiliate church in the Philippines to help the victims of this calamity.
8. If you're a doctor, join a medical mission that will go to the Philippines to help the victims. In the meantime, gather some antibiotics, including the freebies given by the pharmaceutical companies, and bring them to the Philippine Consulate to send to the Philippines.
9. Buy Philippine-made products. Hard-hit Marikina is the "shoe capital of the Philippines" and exports many of its products to the US and other countries.
10. Speak positively about the Philippines, and ask people for a moratorium on bad-mouthing the Philippines and previous aid-relief efforts. You can’t ask people to help someone you are putting down. If you have nothing good to say about the Philippines, then don't say anything and let those who love the country do whatever can be done to help it recover.