Philippines: Climate change crisis hits world's poor hardest -- again

Floods in Marikina, Manila. Photo courtesy of Dave Llavanes Jr.

By Peter Boyle

August 9, 2012 -- Green Left Weekly/Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- "The situation is pretty grim", Reihana Mohideen told Green Left Weekly from the frontline of devastating floods that have submerged half of Manila over the last few days. "It's still raining hard and hard to get around."

"This is another painful reminder of the global climate change crisis and the pain is being felt most by the poor and most oppressed."

Mohideen was part of a team delivering basic supplies, collected at the Partido Lakas ng Masa (PLM) national office, to urban poor and working-class comunities. These include canned goods, instant noodles, milk, coffee, sugar, biscuits, bread, basic medicines and towels. The PLM is one of a number of progressive people's organisations doing relief work with very limited resources.

"Today we tried to get to the evacuation centre in Marikina. There were supposed to be 1000 families at the evacuation centre. But we never got there as we had to attend to the affected communities along the way", Mohideen reported. "We've just left Barangay Industrial Valley Complex in Marikina, where we were delivering lugaw [rice porridge]. Still flooded here. People are cleaning out rubbish that has collected near their homes. Some said that they hadn't eaten since last night and were quite angry that we got there only today.

"We are appealing for aid and volunteers (to help distribute aid) to come directly to our office at: #13 Rigor St., Brgy. Masagana, Proj. 4, QC."

These are the worst floods since catastrophic floods in 2009 which killed more than 460 people. The death toll from the current floods is 56 but expected to rise. Already more than a quarter of a million people have fled their homes.

"These massive floods are caused not by a typhoon but by a monsoon rain," Mohideen explained. "The flood waters though have reached the same levels or even exceeded that during typhoon Ondoy in 2009."

"This emerging pattern of increasingly extreme weather conditions has to be related to climate change, and those suffering the worst impact of it are the poor. The lack of adequate housing, drainage and canals, water catchments to collect water, hit the urban poor who are more than 80% of the population in Metro Manila, especially hard. This, combined with lack of information and awareness means the adaptation mechanisms of the population is extremely weak.

"We are doing what we can. but the only way that disasters on this scale can be mitigated is through the state, or government intervention. For example, today we couldn't reach some of the communities from where our organisers were appealing for assistance because of the floods. We need boats and helicopters to get out. But for this we need a government committed to the interests of the people. A government that is based on the protection of elite rule will not be able to effectively handle disaster response and such crises.

"We know how effectively Cuba handles disaster response. It has been identified as a world's best practice by the UN. The Philippine government is far cry from the Cuban standard."

Through the people's organisation, Transform Asia, an international appeal for emergency aid has been issued. Donations can be sent to:

Transform Asia Flood Appeal:
Now donations can be made via PayPal.
  • Go to the Transform Asia website or the PLM website and press the "donate" button.
  • For those with PayPal accounts you can also send donations to via PayPal and it will be sent directly to the Transform Asia flood appeal account.
  • Or donate directly to the flood appeal at:
    Transform Asia Gender and Labor Institute
    Account No. 304-2-30400456-2
    Swift Code: MBTCPHMM
    Metro Bank, Anonas
    Branch: Aurora Blvd, Project 4
    Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines
    Mobile No. +63 (0)9088877702

Poor communities in Philippines worst-hit by floods

Updated 9 August 2012, 21:48 AEST

Local authorities in the Philippines are struggling to get food and other aid to an estimated two-million people affected by floods in and around the Manila area.

The weather bureau says over a month's worth of rain fell on Manila in two days.

Evacuation centres in and around Manila have been overwhelmed, as the waters displacing hundreds of thousands of people.

Slum-dwellers in areas along rivers and canals like Marikina are worst-hit.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speakers: Reihana Mohideen, chairwoman of Philippine non-government organisation, Transform Asia

MOHIDEEN: We've been distributing supplies as soon as we could get out, so it's been the last couple of days, at least. We're basically distributing things that people can eat as soon as they receive it, so that there isn't alot of cooking and preparation involved - dry biscuits, noodles, instant noodles, water, and porridge, that's ready to eat - readymade porridge, called 'lugaw', a rice porridge. Also, there's a need for medical assistance because there's a health alert in metro Manila because of the impact of the floods.

LAM: And with over a million people displaced in greater Manila alone, I imagine there must be many people missing out?

MOHIDEEN: Yes, yesterday, one of the places that I visited - a part of metro Manila - called Marikina, one of the worst-affected areas because there's a big river which regularly overflows. We went to one of the poor communities there, and we were supposed to go to a school, an evacuation centre housing one-thousand families - we managed to get there just after lunch. And people were really upset, we couldn't really get to the evacuation centre because people were saying, "Where have you been? We haven't had anything to eat since last night." And some of the men in the community started rocking our vehicle, so we just stopped and distributed food on the spot. And because we go in with local community leaders who're well-respected, we had to basically stop and distribute the relief and we never got to the evacuation centre.

LAM: And of course, the local authorities are also dealing with increasing numbers of displaced people, including huge numbers turning up at evacuation centres? What can you tell us about that?

MOHIDEEN: On tv, you've got the President (Aquino) visiting your model evacuation centre, which all the agencies have accessed, it's like your 'model' (centre) you've got tv crews filming it, and so on. But some of the evacuation centres that we're going to are in some of the most deprived communities. The one that I visited this morning, which is in a place called Tai-Tai, critical area, there were nineteen families to a class room.

LAM: Nineteen families to a class room?

MOHIDEEN: Nineteen families to a class room and they were mainly women with babies, but they had allocated nineteen families to a class room, according to the local organisers there. And on our way there, we saw many people had just camped outside, they weren't going to these evacuation centres, and I can understand it. If I had the option of going to an evacuation centre with nineteen families to a class room, or camp outside, I would camp outside!

A disaster on this scale is hard for any third world government to cope with, but the response really is not good enough. It's inadequate. It's really inadequate. For example, there are water pumping stations in the area that I went to - we came across three water pumping stations. They pump out 15-thousand litres of water a day, and they were completely overwhelmed. They did not have the capacity to deal with the amount of water.

What we are seeing is not just the face of evacuation, we're seeing the face of poverty. These are poor people in these centres. You're not coming across the rich, you're coming across the middle class. You're really coming across the poor in these centres. The devastation that you travel through to get to these centres of flooded huts - this is the face of poverty. The fact that housing is inadequate. The fact that there're no proper drainage systems. The fact that roads get flooded so quickly, and the fact that you don't have water catchment to catch and store this water. The fact that there's inadequate power supply.

LAM: It seems to me it's not a problem that the Philippine government can fix overnight. But the Caribbean nation of Cuba, poor as it is, has been identified as having the best disaster response practice by the United Nations. What do you think they're doing right, that the Philippines might learn from?

MOHIDEEN: You know, there're the structural and physical aspects of disaster perparedness - not just response but preparedness prior to the disaster. In Cuba you have almost a hundred percent electrification (sic), you've got good road access, evacuation centres that are properly set up with health professionals, where every centre has doctors and nurses, because they have this decentralised system of health care. So you have these physical and structural aspects, but what the UN also points to, the ISDR, which is the UN agency that deals with the disasters, they say that Cuba has created a 'Culture of Safety' through successful education and awareness campaigns. School children are trained. There is this understanding and awareness and education, which goes with the high literacy level, by the way. There's almost a hundred percent literacy level in Cuba, so people can actually read and understand the information.