By Marlen V. Ronquillo, Manila Times 30 Sept 09
What is the global mantra nowadays? It is something like this: Always turn a crisis into an opportunity. Or, do not let a crisis go to waste.
How do we turn Ondoy’s wreckage into opportunity? From the surface, this is quite hard to even think of right now, given the magnitude of the death and destruction brought about by Ondoy’s record-high rainfall. Even those mildly suffering are still stunned over our own version of Katrina: instant death, submerged towns and cities, desperate cries for help of the dying, the inadequacy of the rescue efforts.
You have a mental account of what took place in places like Bocaue and Cainta. People lazing around on a Saturday morning (some sipping coffee, some still bundled in bed.) Suddenly, the water rises. One hour later, they are trapped in a watery inferno. Some make it to the rooftop. Others fail to make it.
The stiff, ice-cold and graying bodies of infants that littered the low-lying towns of Metro Manila, Rizal and Central Luzon cannot find any form of justification. They had glimpsed life—only to be cut short in a cruel, instant death.
But like in all aftermaths, the survivors have to take up the tools and go on with their lives. Grief is always transitory. I know. I lost everything to the Pinatubo eruption. The day after the Big Bang I had nothing except the shirt on my back—and anguish. The investment of a lifetime, an integrated farm just 30 kilometers off the volcano’s crater, was doomed by hot sand. Two weeks after, however, you start shifting through the wreckage to build anew.
Life’s unfailing narrative is rebuilding from tragedies.
The first priority is a concern of public policy—the system that has favored the construction of costly, multi-purpose dams. The giant dam policy should be reviewed, then archived. It is a 19th century policy prescription and it is no longer relevant nowadays.
The giant dams, during times of excessive rainfall, have to let go of excess water to prevent the collapse of the holding structures. Every water release, though calibrated by the standards of dam managers, has a terrible impact on the low-lying communities along the rivers and tributaries that absorb the released water. Precisely, this was the case on Saturday. Quezon City’s traditionally safe areas were submerged neck-deep after the water releases from the dams.
The dams are rendered safe by the water releases. But the communities and the people that these dams are theoretically mandated to serve through potable water supply, power needs and irrigation water have been either maimed or killed by the water releases.
If the dams are dangerous during periods of excessive rainfall, they are also not performing up to par during the dry season.
If you pass by the giant Pantabangan dam during the dry season, you would see the spire of the old town church jutting out of the low-level water. Because the watershed areas that are supposed to replenish the dam’s water supply during the dry season are fast-vanishing, Pantabangan is barely-functioning during the peak of the dry season. During El Niños, it is in worse shape.
Magat dam, a giant, multi-purpose dam like Pantabangan, is likewise spooked by the same problem of denuded watershed areas. Like Pantabangan, the dry season always sees Magat suffer from FTP, or failure to perform.
All the giant dams such as Magat, Pantabangan and Ca-secnan had been funded by loans given government guarantees. They are costly, their huge cost made more terrible by the huge interest payments.
The interest payment from the loans used to fund the construction of the giant dams alone is enough to fill the classroom void, the textbook lack and the inadequacy of public school teachers.
Ok, what is the alternative to these costly dams often suffering from bouts of FTP?
Invest in research and development (R and D) to develop safe, less costly and more efficient technologies for irrigation. Then, give RE (renewable energy) a big push to lessen the dependence on the multi-purpose dams for power needs. This will remove all the reasons for building these costly and unsafe dams.
Countries across the globe are doing the same thing, reviewing their giant dam construction projects in favor of safer more efficient substitutes.
Archiving the dams is truly a 21st century imperative.