While CNN International is the “Michael Jackson trial” 24/7, and Google News’ major story is about someone called Amanda Knox, the story here in SE Asia is the floods from the typhoons.

Here in the Philippines, large areas remain flooded, partly due to the fact that the irrigation dams are still open to drain the run off from the mountains north of here.

Our president “P-Noy” Aquino finally got around to visiting the place.

photo Manila Bulletin (Photo by LJ PASION)

The flooding was not as bad as the typhoon that flooded Manila a couple years ago, probably because both typhoons hit upstream and they didn’t have to open the dams when Manila was being hit by heavy rain.

But for us, the second typhoon hit our mountains north of Manila, so the water continues to come downstream, and they are still opening dams to release the pressure.

There has been some criticism of the President in not visiting sooner, but actually the coordination of the release of water has been better this time (our area was warned to evacuate when they planned to open the dam). The main problem, according to the Manila Bulletin is that the Pampanga river has silted up, so the water overflowed the bank.

The reason it took so long for our president to visit is that he was visiting Japan, trying to get investments, and because he doesn’t like to hog the limelight. Other politicians however have been helping: One bigshot from Manila was here giving out free food to flood victims, and the local mayor has also arranged a food giveaway.  The folks need it: not only are there more beggers, but our friends are relatives are asking for help to get over the disaster.

But the real problem is the lost crop. This area is the “rice bowl” of Luzon, and the storms hit in early harvest season, and that we would lose 30 to 80 percent of the rice crop.

So although the death toll has been mercifully lower than previous typhoons, the rice crop damage this year is worse.

But we aren’ t the only ones in Asia facing damaged rice.

Cambodia and Thailand were also hit by flooding that damaged rice fields.

Southern Pakistan’s floods have damaged some crops.

The rice producing areas of the Mekong Delta in Viet Nam have also been hit by floods, as have parts of Burma.

All of this crop damage won’t result in major famines per se, since these countries still have a surplus to sell, and other countries will be able to export rice, and other foods (wheat or corn based foods) can be used. Most of the governments here in Asia are democratic or semi democratic and will make sure the people don’t starve.

The real problem is inflation. With less rice to sell, major rice exporters are raising their prices.

Inflation is already a problem here in the Philippines. The Manila Bulletin reports a rate of nearly five percent, mainly due to the increase in the price of transportation, cooking fuel, construction material, and consumer products, with a lower inflation rate for food prices.

Much of this inflation is due to the high cost of oil. And the higher oil prices impact the expense of growing rice, since diesel or gasoline is used for plowing (handplows have replaces most of the water buffalo), threshing the grain, taking the grain to the rice dealers, and (when it’s not sunny out) drying the grain.

Right now, the Philippines is able to cope without a call for international aid.

But locally, there is stress on families who face having to clean up their flooded homes and replace the destroyed furniture/clothing/utensils/stoves etc.

A lot of folks here have family working overseas, and this helps. Alas, with trouble in the Middle East, there has been a small drop in the number of OFW (overseas workers) sending home the paychecks.

Another minor problem: The first thing to go when money is tight is “luxury items”. Many farmers and their wives supplement their income making hand crafts for overseas markets.

For example, we have a small side business where we hire a half dozen workers in the dry season to make capiz lamps to be sold for Christmas gifts. These workers are farmers who subsidize their income this way. This year, no one is buying Luxury items, so we won’t be hiring them.

There is a lot of worry that the world wide recession will hit the tourism industry. The Philippines has a lot of tourists from Japan and Korea: will they stay home? A slump in tourism might also affect many Filipinos who work overseas in hotels, restaurants, or as entertainers.

So right now, the Philippines is coping on their own. The old traditions of caring for one’s extended family and friends is helping, and the government and politicians are chipping in to stay popular.

Unlike our previous president, the lovely now Congresswoman Gloria Arroyo, President Aquino is still popular in our area. He is viewed as honest and willing to go after corruption, and that may save the day. Get rid of corruption, and we have millions of skilled workers who would rather work here than Dubai, and even though our workers are paid more than in China, the quality of the goods would make such factories competitive.
But one worries that a combination of inflation, higher food prices, increase in expenses, less money from overseas relatives and bad weather (another typhoon is due) may snowball into hunger, riots and political instability.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She blogs at Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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