Man-made disaster

The death toll from Typhoon Pablo that slammed into southern Philippines last week is rising rapidly. Over 600 people are said to have died so far and another 900, mainly fishermen, are reported missing.

Relatives of the missing fishermen are hoping that their kin have taken refuge in one of the many small islands in the Spratlys and Celebes Sea but with every passing day such hopes are receding. The typhoon has left behind a trail of devastation.

The Philippines government has declared a national calamity, which empowers it to impose price controls on essential commodities. While this will protect ordinary Filipinos from artificially hiked prices, they will need global support to tide over the wave of post-typhoon problems that could engulf them. The United Nations has appealed to the international community to donate generously but whether an economic-crisis ridden world will loosen its purse strings remains to be seen.

The Philippine government is said to have taken steps to evacuate people living in the typhoon’s path. However, these did not help. This is because Pablo did not strike in areas that are typhoon-prone. Climate experts say that thanks to climate change, predicting the path of typhoons is becoming difficult.

Northern Mindanao was hit by Typhoon Washi last year. Pablo, however, hit southern Mindanao, which is normally not affected by typhoons. The implications for a country like Philippines which is disaster-prone – it frequently experiences volcanoes, earthquakes, typhoons and floods – are enormous. Since this is a densely populated country as well, any disaster that strikes exacts a heavy human toll. If the behaviour of typhoons is becoming unpredictable, steps to evacuate people from the path of an advancing typhoon will be hindered.

Human greed is deepening the deadly impact of natural disasters. Extensive and unregulated mining for gold and removal of forest cover through logging activity in the mountains of Mindanao made the area vulnerable to landslides. Entire villages were swept away by a flood of mud.

Typhoon Pablo is a reminder that much of the devastation that comes in the wake of a natural disaster is man-made. Thus, positive human intervention can mitigate the crushing impact of these disasters. Hundreds of lives that have been lost to landslides could have been saved if only mining and logging companies were more sensitive to the environment.

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