Here in the rice lands of Luzon, the latest news is bad. You probably read in the news that we were hit by Typhoon Pedring, but this time Manila was not devestated as in Typhoon Ondoy two years ago.

Manila Bay’s affluent waterfront properties were damaged when the storm wall failed, but Manila was not as badly damaged as after Ondoy, and so far the death toll is still in the double digits (latest count 43 and rising).

But this latest storm has resulted in heavy flooding in the provinces north of Manila, where we live.

There is a lot going on that isn’t being notice on the BBC or CNN. You see, like in Katrina of New Orleans, it’s not the wind causing the damage but the rain. And so as the water came down from the mountains into our flat lands, there was water release from the dams. As a result, the provinces north of Manila are flooded, and many are still being rescued from the hardest hit areas in Pampanga and Bulacan.

Quick geography lesson. The Philippines is mountainous, but near Manila are flat areas which is the “rice bowl” of  the Philippines. The soil is volcanic and flat. Indeed, from our house we can see an extinct volcano that probably helped make this flat and fertile land. We are not on the ocean, and the mountains are a dozen miles north of here, but we do get rivers running off water from the rains in the mountains.

Usually this is a good thing.

One season a year, we get enough rain for a rice crop, but not two. Often the “second season” is sometimes too dry for a good crop. So we irrigate for a second crop,which means irrigation canals and dams to store the water. There are also hydroelectric dams upstream to supply electricity.

The area is full of irrigation canals, and often poor people build their houses on or near them. Garbage gets thrown in the canals, something the government is trying to educate folks to stop doing, but in rural areas the canals are used for water, garbage and toilets.

We also have a river that usually flows at the bottom of a large deep area, and yes folks often build temporary houses there to harvest the weeds or fish to sell.  There is a high bridge that goes across the gap, so high that it seems unbelieveable to have our daughter reported the in the middle of the typhoon the water was lapping on the bridge so they had to close it.

Mild flooding is common here. Because it is flat, often every heavy rain floods the streets and sometimes the overflow from heavy rains cause houses to be flooded.

Alas, this week, it means many poor folks were flooded out of there houses. So our relatives had to evacuate their house to upstairs, and our cook had to get her family out of their small one story home. She reported the local market had water up to her ankles, but her home was under two feet of water.

Luckily, she reported the locals who evacuated were all okay. Such things happen every couple of years, so this means moving to higher ground with a relative, but the government also opens emergency shelters in these times.

The problem? Some people assumed the worse was over and didn’t follow the evacuation orders, so ended up stranded in the floods caused by opening the upstream dams the following day. Even yesterday, many reports of families in nearby towns were being rescued from their roofs because of the water coming from water flowing from the mountains and from the dams being opened.

Why open the dams? Because they were in danger of topping over and collapsing from the rains upstream, and better a controlled flood than a deluge from a collapsed dam. And because a new  typhoon was headed our way.

If you are interested, you can read the full explanation from the Manila Bulletin.

But there is another problem that is really bad: The rains have hit at harvest season. We were expecting a bumper crop, and lots of folks were hoping we wouldn’t have to import so much rice from other countries this year.

We ourselves have harvested some fields, but some of the unharvested rice is now flat and flooded and will probably be lost. We’ll probably plow them under and plant early to make up the loss. But what about farmers who only have one or two small fields?

Another problem: when you harvest rice, it has to be dried before you store it. The usual means to dry rice is to lay it on a roadbed or plastic tarp and let the sun dry it.

But this year, the roads are wet and there isn’t a lot of sunshine. And the alternative is to take the newly cut rice to a ricemill and let them dry it (which lowers your profit). Again, this will hit the small farmers hard.

So the bad news is that the typhoon damage is not too bad, but that the floods, the destroyed houses, and the destroyed crops will badly affect the Philippine economy this year, and mean more folks being hungry.

To make things worse, there has been a lot of lost jobs from the troubles in the Middle East, meaning our overseas workers are fewer than last year, and less money being sent home by them to support their families.

The only good news in all of this is that our new president “PNoy”Aquino is trying to stop corruption. Less corruption, more investment locally, and more local jobs so the farmers’ kids can find jobs closer than Saudi or Dubai.


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

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