Thursday, February 3, 2011

Creeping disaster in the Philippines not newsworthy enough for fiesta-happy Filipinos

Butuan City was declared as "in a state of calamity" as five days of heavy rains inundated the Caraga Region of the Philippines killing two people and displacing 300,000. Science Undersecretary Graciano Yumul said that the Philippines is facing a "creeping disaster" as the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) revealed data indicating the looming adverse effects of the La NiƱa weather phenomenon on the Philippines.
In January alone, 46 of the 51 stations of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) in the country recorded unusually high rainfall readings. Some reached levels of more than 1,000 millimeters.

Yumul said more than 11 typhoons were expected to hit the country and warned that these would be intense.

Particularly alarming is the effect of these disasters -- much of which is exacerbated by Filipinos' cancer-like degradation of their environment -- on agricultural output.
"Vast farmlands were still under water and lots of roads and bridges were destroyed," Gobenciong said. She said the extent of damage to crops and properties had not yet been ascertained yet but they expect it to be "very high."

Last month, millions of pesos in properties and agricultural crops were also damaged when floodwaters—blamed on relentless logging activities—inundated the Caraga provinces.

The Philippines, with its enormous population of impoverished people, physically disjoint geography, and weak infrastructure is a humanitarian disaster waiting to happen -- and acts of Filipinos' much-venerated God can accelerate our meeting up with this bleak future. The Philippines is dependent on imported rice to augment a domestic harvest of its national staple that both cannot keep up with demand and can only make its way to market at great cost owing to a severely stunted logistics infrastructure.

A supply shortfall and the resulting price bubble created by panicked Filipinos and shrewd businessmen in 2008 provided a dress rehearsal for such flow-on disasters that may come from any number of natural, geopolitical, or global finance tightwire acts tipping over the edge.
An unprecedented cold snap as well as pests and diseases affecting crops in China and South East Asia have had an immediate impact on rice availability, as has recent flooding in the Philippines and Vietnam. Increasing urbanisation, changing land use and shifting patterns of agriculture, including the growing of crops for bio-fuels, are among the underlying reasons for shortages of staples such as rice. Rising prices also have their own dynamic, leading to speculation and the hoarding of rice supplies in the hope of future windfall profits.

Some of the largest rice exporters have limited sales. Vietnam has recently decided to reduce exports by almost a quarter and Cambodia has announced a two-month ban on rice exports. The world’s leading exporter, Thailand, has also begun to control foreign rice sales. India has raised the minimum export price by more than 50 percent and China has begun to import rice.

As the world’s largest importer of rice, the Philippines has been among the hardest hit. Rising prices for rice, along with other food items and oil, led to a sharp jump in the official inflation rate from 2.6 percent in March 2007 to 6.4 percent in March this year. Radio Australia reported late last month that "rice prices in Manila have soared to as high as $1.15 a kilo from as low as 50 cents a kilo a week ago."

Death and property destruction happening outside of Manila hardly make headline news in a nation of starstruck ignoramuses. But what is happening in Filipinos' own backyard is certainly more relevant than some "people power" "revolution" happening half a world away in one of those US-allied desert kingdoms.

1 comment:

  1. Food prices have already been rising at an alarming pace for a couple months now, and not just rice; as a matter of fact, the increase in the price of rice has been relatively minor -- the Radio Australia report seems to be an extreme case. Fish and vegetables are going through the roof, though, and regular grocery items seem to be going up every couple of days.