Sunday, September 26, 2010

One year after Ondoy's deluge, Singapore got a taste of that too this year

Buendia during Ondoy? No Orchard Road last June 16! Photo credits from http://www.about-knowledge.com/orchard-road-flood/
Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) will be memorable for me since it flooded my house and sending my techie gadgets to the computer in the sky. Also I was trapped in Quezon City, at a charismatic church where I helped evacuees get some assistance with three medical students from UERM medical school who were to report for duty in the hospital, but couldn't. By then UERM hospital was up to its second floor in flood. The polluted San Juan River burst its banks.  I could not forget the long line of schoolchildren with drums and bugles as they were in school for a show when the flood struck and sank their school. But many people lost more in terms of property and worse in lives.  While damaged houses can be repaired, IPods, flat screen TVs and Digicams can be replaced by "cooler" models, a human life lost to the floods cannot be replaced.

The blurbs today mark the disaster by appropriately documenting how people have persisted like those people who rebuilt their bungalows in Provident Village Marikina to sport 3rd floor "flood refuge" rooms. And the blurbs also sadly mark memorial services for those who perished. This is an important moment for closure and moving on.

But one blurb says another Ondoy is unlikely. I beg to differ. It will happen again, perhaps next year when the new La Nina unleashes its effects. The world will have more Ondoys on a yearly basis. This year we saw a huge swath of Pakistan go underwater. Southern China experiences disastrous floods every year despite dams and other engineering measures taken to minimize floods.

Singaporean colleagues told me just last week about their shock when Orchard Road went underwater with a monsoon deluge last June 16. This was totally unexpected for spic and span Singapore, with its efficient drainage and pumping facilities. Scientists and Engineers are now figuring out the real reason for the flood. The immediate cause is that in green and parkland Singapore, leaves from trees ended up in the stormwater drains and blocked water flow. Well at least those are leaves and not plastic bags as what doomed Manila exactly a year ago today. But Singapore got 60-80% of its June rain quota in two hours. This is akin to Manila getting 100% of its September rain in 6 hours!

The flood sank luxury outlets on Orchard Road including a bag shop that sold ladies handbags at a price in the thousands of dollars range. It also sank the Starbucks Cafe on the same road.

Singapore scientists have also noted in their environmental studies that rainfall unpredictability will make managing the city state more difficult. With this the economic costs to the city state will be astronomical. That's why the Singaporean government has put money in its weather service and environmental management services. Climate change does not insulate spic and span and efficient Singapore.

The Noynoy administration in the Philippines says it is ready for the floods. I think not. Priorities speak louder than words.

This administration has not increased budgets for the weather service, axed its chief forecaster, did not increase the budget of the science department for research etc.

Will Mr Aquino wait for the Pasig River to sink his Bahay Pangarap bachelor's pad?

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