Unnatural disaster

The Philippines is accustomed to clearing up after the destruction caused by the dozen or more monsoons that hit the archipelago each summer and autumn. But the island of Luzon is unlikely to recover swiftly from the havoc of last week, when two storms slammed into the coastal areas of Quezon province. The disaster was only partly natural and largely the work of man. Normally, the roots of trees that cover the interior Sierra Madre mountains would absorb the rain. But four decades of logging – much of it illegal – has steadily denuded the island’s mountains of trees, so they no longer function as shield or sponge. Instead, they have become powerful delivery systems of floodwater and mud.
When Typhoon Winnie hit the coast last Monday, one resident said: “Houses have been completely swept away and cars and vans have been washed away too.” By the time Typhoon Nanmadol had moved away from the coast, at least 640 people were confirmed dead and nearly 400 were missing. Rescue efforts were made almost impossible by blocked roads, washed-out bridges and the storms that succeeded Winnie.
President Gloria Macapagal has suspended all logging and promised severe punishment for lawbreakers, in the face of another reminder of how hazardous it is to fool around with Mother Nature.

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