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Storm may be over, but trouble still brews

An outbreak of a water-borne disease in the Philippines highlights the inability of communities to cope with the storm's aftermath.

In many ways, the outbreak of leptospirosis and the rising incidents of illnesses — such as diarrhea, E. coli infections and skin rashes — underscore the sheer inability of the affected communities to cope with the destruction brought by the storms. For example, the continued presence of floodwater has been blamed on the clogged drainage and sewage systems of cities and towns comprising Metro Manila, many of which have slum areas where houses block waterways.

As if this were not enough, tens of thousands of residents who live in at least 500 evacuation centers may not be able to find new homes as the government, under pressure now to do something about the slum communities that are choking Metro Manila, attempts to relocate them to other areas. Kadamay, an urban-poor group, has criticized the government for forcing these residents to live in relocation sites with no viable means of livelihood.

The immediate and lingering impact of the typhoons has put further pressure on the government to find more money to finance its rehabilitation efforts. It announced last week that it would float $1.1 billion worth of bonds precisely for this purpose. But critics now say that that would only add to the country’s ballooning debts, which now stand at $51.8 billion. Interest payments alone for that debt would eat up a fourth of the country’s whole budget for 2010.

Some Filipino officials find it unconscionable that the government still insists on paying these debts — and even adding to it by borrowing more — at a time when the country needs all the resources it could gather to rehabilitate itself. They are demanding a moratorium on debt payments.

“We should request foreign lending institutions for a debt moratorium so that we can realign and use a sizeable portion of the hefty debt service fund to the projects aimed at alleviating the plight of disaster victims,” said Aquilino Pimentel Jr., a senator.

“It would be the height of insensitivity and callousness if the government continues to allocate billions toward debt servicing when the Filipino people are in desperate need for relief,” said Satur Ocampo, a congressman. “It will take years to rehabilitate the damaged areas, and it is certain that it will take much longer for the Filipinos severely affected by the calamities to get back on their feet and recover physically, emotionally and psychologically,” he said.

The administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has ignored such appeals and instead tried to reassure Filipinos that the government is doing its best to mitigate the impact of climate change, which has been blamed for the unusual amount of rainfall, and environmental degradation. On Friday, Arroyo signed a law, the Philippine Climate Change Act of 2009, that would put in motion programs to deal with climate change. After the signing, the President called on Filipinos to get serious about climate change.

“We will be seeing more and worse Ondoys and Pepengs in the future, if we do not start greening our ways and our environment now,” Arroyo said, referring to the local names of Ketsana and Parma.