The Philippine capital of Manila was battered by the heaviest rainfall it has ever experienced. In barely six hours, 341 millimeters or 13.38 inches of rain fell on the sprawling metropolis - where some 13 million people were trapped in a nightmarish gridlock of traffic and terror.
Roads and highways were rendered impassable. Rivers and lakes within the city and surrounding provinces spilled their banks, forcing residents living along these high-risk zones to abandon their homes and move to relief centers. Power went out in many areas. Many residents suddenly found themselves cut off from television, radio and web updates. Along with that went ATMs and cash - so crucial in a calamity.
Corner stores and 711s quickly ran out of essential goods. Except for the elevated light rail system, the transport system within Metro-Manila ground to a halt. Traffic officers were nowhere to be found. Thousands of commuters had to walk down flooded streets that were, in some cases, chest deep in water. Abandoned vehicles sat along roadways, sidewalks and parks - like ghosts in a river current. Rescuers, caught flatfooted, could not get into flooded districts.
AM radio reported many cases of families forced to climb up onto their rooftops, while waiting for
rescue. As darkness fell, dams filled to overflowing and, to everyone's concern, floodgates were opened - aggravating the crisis in several vulnerable towns. Flights and ship departures were cancelled. Travelers and tourists found themselves stuck in terminals, ill-equipped for a long wait. The mega-city had turned into a mega-mess. It was every man for himself.
According to Nathaniel Cruz, head of the Philippine weather bureau, this was the heaviest rainfall Manila has ever experienced in the history of the Bureau, far surpassing the highest 24-hour rainfall registered 42 years ago.
Cruz says, "Today, we really experienced an extreme weather event." The volume of rain dumped by Ondoy in barely six hours, was almost equal to the average monthly rainfall of Metro Manila - 392 millimeters. In six hours, the National Capital Region and an area covering 23 provinces with a population exceeding 35 million people found themselves face to face with what has now been officially acknowledged as the frightening and tragic face of climate change.
Ondoy, known internationally as Ketsana, is the 15th tropical cyclone to enter the Philippine Area of Responsibility, slammed into the eastern side of Luzon Island from the Pacific Ocean before noon Saturday with maximum winds of 85 kph near the center and gustiness of up to 100 kph. It wasn't even a full-blown typhoon. And strangely enough, the epic disaster spawned by Ondoy hit Manila in a season that has been globally recognized as El Niño – a period of drought.
Ondoy taught Manila a painful and very expensive lesson. With climate change, no one is ever exempt. Its impacts are dynamic and non-linear. Coastal zones and flood prone areas along river banks and lake shores will of course get hit. But less vulnerable areas and sectors are affected as well, because the impacts of an extreme weather event spill over into transportation, infrastructure, power, telecommunications, health, food security, water - all leading to internal displacement and marginalization of hundreds, even thousands, of people. This in turn hobbles the economy setting off a vicious degenerative cycle that can only be described as the human face of what climate scientists call 'positive feedback'.
There is no doubt that climate change is here. Are we prepared to adapt to this nebulous, aggressive future? Clearly, not. But, it is never too late to work pro-actively. There is no question that we must shut this Pandora's box of fossil fuels that have given birth to climate change. But that is not enough. Hunger happens daily. And it will not wait. Climate adaptation should start now. Locally first, then nationally, then globally.
Planning must start from scenarios of the future, rather than from the present. Collectively, we must identify 'next practices', because today's 'best practice' will no longer suffice. We must start small, learn fast and scale rapidly.
And most of all, we have to learn how to work together. There are many solutions, but we only have one planet.
Tan, Jose. Ma. Lorenzo. Epic Rainfall Epic Floods Hit Metro Manila." World Wide Fund for Nature Website. 27 September 2009. http://www.wwf.org.ph/newsfacts.php?pg=det&id=165