Sunday, June 26, 2011

Cotabato Flood- Concerted Efforts Needed

Cotabato City's history dates back to the 15th century when an Arab missionary- Shariff Kabunsuan, landed along the banks of the Rio Grande de Mindanao and introduced Islam faith to the natives. It was the faith that moved the early settlers to communal life, and to establish the Sultanate of Maguindanao and later developed as the capital town of Maguindanao. In the nineteenth century, roads and wharfs were constructed and it paved way to the birth of modern day Cotabato. Come 1959, the then Municipality of Cotabato became a chartered city .Today, Cotabato City is the seat of two administrative regions: Region XII and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

The city's gem- Rio Grande de Mindanao is the second largest river in the Philippines (182 kilometers long and 96 meters wide) and the longest in Mindanao. The great river was recently filled with aquatic weeds (water hyacinths and the like) coming from nearby marshland which was believed by many residents to may have caused blockage/clogging of the river spilling over the city's areas thereby causing floods due to weeks of heavy rains brought about by typhoons Egay and Falcon.

Over 100,000 people (more than 36,000 families) of the city’s 37 barangays were affected by the disaster. Many of the evacuees are staying with relatives, neighbors and friends but more or less15,000 have to be sheltered on basketball courts and other government facilities converted into evacuation centers.The local government have already identified 16 evacuation centers but officials are worried they may need more should the number of evacuees increase or the flooding worsen. Health and education concerns such as outbreak of diseases and continued suspension of classes (as school campuses were converted to evacuation centers) are also noted.

During the crisis, the national government was criticized for the shortfalls in assistance.Too much attention was given to the supposed role of the national government and too little to the actual efforts of those who made the biggest difference in the first days of a crisis- the people in the communities themselves. The local government and the residents demon­strated effective immediate response. Thousands of people were sheltered and fed by local efforts. The local government officials, with other organizations (NGO, media, schools and local business establishments among others) responded quickly and effectively by providing facilities and resources.

As the aftermath is being dealt with, 'word wars' between the national government (president PNoy and Ms. Soliman of DSWD) and the local government (city mayor Hon. Guiani Jr.) regarding relief assistance ensued. News updates regarding the flood was also flooded with almost-sensationalized statements stirring emotions from both camps and spectators alike. Where did the millions of pesos worth of relief assistance go? Why do local leaders declare (even signed formal manifesto) that they have not received any assistance? Who is to blame? Whom do they ask for further help and support as the effect of the crisis is still being felt?

The issues (food and clean drinking water primarily) and the system of bringing of relief aid (concerns cropping up as some units and offices fail to coordinate with local agencies) to evacuation areas has become a problem.While efforts of LGUs, government agencies and NGOs are commendable and planning for long term solutions that are needed to be able to prevent these scenario from happening again is being done, the affected families and those who chose to stay in their homes continue to wait for best immediate course of action. The success of every undertaking depends on the concerted efforts of the national and local government units, setting aside (or doing away) with political issues for the mean time or for good.

Perhaps it's about time to focus on preparing and developing response plans for local disasters on local level. Although in the event of a catastrophic disaster, a successful response is a national response. However, it does not mean a response that depend only on the national level, but rather at the local level as well in terms of preparation. Given the issues that have cropped up recently, IMHO, "The people closest to the problem are the ones best equipped to find the best solution." This is if and only if they are tapped properly to help in helping themselves.

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