Manila’s misery

Arab News Editorial – The death toll resulting from Sunday’s devastating floods caused by Typhoon Ketsana in Manila and elsewhere in the Philippines continues to rise. But while nothing can be done for the dead other than recover and bury their bodies, a great deal can be done for the living. Almost half a million people have been forced out of their homes by the catastrophe, with 375,000 of them now in makeshift camps. Inevitably, it is the most vulnerable, the poor living in shantytowns and settlements by rivers, who have suffered the most. There are thousands upon thousands who have lost everything.

The government of the Philippines has made it clear that it cannot cope with a disaster of this magnitude. It needs help in providing food, medicines and temporary shelter. The world must be generous. Saudi Arabia in particular must be generous. It has special reason to be so. This country would not be where it is today without the contributions over the years from millions of Filipinos. Plumbers, electricians, drivers, secretaries, office managers, mechanics, accountants — the list of jobs that Filipinos have filled and continue to fill is endless. Where would the Kingdom’s hospitals be without the army of Filipino nurses who are the backbone of the service? It does not bear thinking about.

The Kingdom’s Filipino community is far from home and worried about the fate of friends and family. If only for them, for all that Saudi Arabia has gained over the years from their unstinting hard work, the country must open its hearts and its wallets. Saudis and foreigners living and working in the Kingdom have a record of being generous at times of disaster. We believe that this will be the case again.

This is the time to help — focusing not only on immediate needs such as food and clothing but on the long-term as well, helping the unfortunate victims rebuild their homes and lives. But a time will come — and soon — when harsh questions are asked.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has described the deluge as a “once-in-a-lifetime” storm. In that nothing like this has happened in 40 years in Manila where 80 percent of the city was under water — her comment is true. But that is not a sufficient explanation. This was a disaster not only because a month’s rain fell in just a few hours. Inadequate drainage played its part as well — and that is due to human failings.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina was one of the deadliest in American history, not because it was one of the strongest ever but because the levee system of dams failed, itself a result of inadequate maintenance caused by cost cutting. The politicians, from President George W. Bush downward, were held responsible. The loss of life in New Orleans and the multibillion-dollar-worth of property destruction became a major factor in his and the Republicans’ loss of credibility.

Typhoon Ketsana could do the same in the Philippines. It has long been known there that the weather in the region is becoming more turbulent. Other countries have taken measures to deal with sudden flooding, installing storm drains. Unfortunately, successive governments in Manila have balked at the expense. President Arroyo may well find that she and her officials are now blamed for that shortsighted policy.

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