A year after the deluge
By Rudy Arizala
Our national hero Dr. Jose P. Rizal in his Un Recuerdo A Mi Pueblo ( My Hometown Memory), wrote nostalgically: "Ah, tender childhood, lovely town. Rich fount of my felicities. . . . Come back as the birds return. At the budding of the flowers."
So, as a native of Infanta, I am also filled with nostalgia about our hometown especially after one year from the deluge - - when on 29 November 2004, flash floods wrought havoc to Infanta, Quezon. It may be recalled that Infanta, together with the neighboring towns of Real and Gen. Nakar in Quezon Province suffered loss of lives, destruction to properties, homes, roads and bridges as well as farmlands.
Foremost in the mind of expatriates like me is: "Have the people of Infanta recovered from the deluge?" If so, to what extent and what are the things still to be done; and how are we going to do them?
II. The Good News
According to ICDAI (Infanta Integrated Community Development Assistance Inc.), agriculture is back in operation. The once barren lands covered by mud and slime, debris and strewn logs, are now teeming not only with luxuriant green rice fields but also with vegetable gardens, especially those lands near river banks consisting of around 50 hectares of land. In-between those rows and rows of vegetable gardens are corn and peanut plantations. The irrigation canals are back in operation except in some isolated areas where the land became higher than the canals due to accumulated eroded soil brought by the floods from the mountains. More than 2,000 families have returned to planting and raising chickens, hogs and other farm animals.
Supply of potable water through pipes is back although there is need to monitor the safety of drinking water due to some silts that managed to remain inside the pipes. Homes / houses are being built or has been rehabilitated.
A coordinating Council was established through the assistance of the Local Government Units (LGU) and ICDAI (Editor's Note: The Social Action Center has been working with various agencies to address many issues left behind by the typhoons of 2004. The SAC has been issuing reports -- see postings in August and September -- to Metro Infanta Foundation on their activities). It is called Municipal Disaster Coordinating Council (MDCC). This town coordinating Council provides a series of action plans on workshops for community based disaster risk management; warning systems and rehabilitation. In addition to the MDCC, the town of Infanta has, through ICDAI, satellite and aerial maps which enabled officials to have a "post disaster map" and a GPS satellite ground topographical survey. Consequently, Infanta town officials and NGO´s now know in their contingency planning the contours and heights of Infanta landscapes thus, helping them decide where to build houses; determine which part of the village or barangay will get flooded first, where to install "alert systems" and determine the timeframe within which to evacuate the people to safer or higher grounds in case of flood.
Thus, through the measures mentioned above, the people of Infanta were jolted into inspiring them again to have hopes and dreams despite the destruction wrought by the flash floods last year. It reawaken their self-confidence. They became aware that "food rations" handed by the government and NGO´s have ended and nobody will provide them food, water, clothing, shelter and their basic necessities forever. There are other people and places in the world which also need assistance and help. The people of Infanta have to make do with what they have. In other words, self-help or self-reliance is important.
III. Problems Still to be Resolved
Despite the above accomplishments or recovery of the town of Infanta, there are still some problems to be resolved. The appearance of "mentally disturbed" individuals has been discovered or noticed. This is probably due to the "shock" they suffered or experienced during the flash-floods such as lose of love ones, sudden destruction of homes and properties and deprivation of means of livelihood. With the help of a doctor (psychiatrist) from the Philippine General Hospital, the town was able to start addressing this mental health problem. ICDAI provided a counseling room for this purpose where people could receive basic training in mental health care. These "barefoot" mental health counselors under the supervision of top level psychiatrists will screen those who need psychiatrist attention and those who would need simple family care.
The other aspect is to have a program of comprehensive land use in Infanta and surrounding areas; drawing up of "hazard maps"; contingency plans, early warning signals or system; and how to tame or make the Agos river less destructive when the rains come or when the flash-floods come cascading again from the Sierra Madre mountains.
So far, what has been down by the people of Infanta? Hereunder is a resume of those accomplishments:
1. Agriculture is back although not yet totally rehabilitated. Food production is being done in large scale and some "marketing problems" might occur.
2. Irrigation system is back but needs further improvement especially those farmlands which could no longer be reached by irrigation canals because said lands have become higher than the level of the canals.
3. Potable water are now available in homes of Infanta. But the water supply system needs further expansion to reach villages and barangays.
4. Houses or homes are being built or repaired.
5. All necessary studies for rehabilitation and expansion have been finished or being done such as sustainable agricultural fisheries and forestry plans.
6. While agricultural plans have been put in place, a comprehensive land use project is necessary due to change in topography of the landscapes of Infanta.
7. Emergency training / exercises are being conducted to make the people aware of what to do in case of another natural calamities.
8. Contingency plans for 16 barangays have been installed.
9. The MDCC is now working like a well-oiled machine.
10. Studies on Agos River is being done.
How are the Infantahins meeting or able to solve the problems?
1. Thru spirit of "self-help" and assistance from the government and NGO´s.
2. Thru openness to "collegial" and "multi-sectoral" leaderships.
3. Through prayers and faith in the Divine Providence.
Thus, within a brief span of one year, through the efforts of Infantahins themselves assisted by the government and NGO´s, the people of Infanta have been inspired "to hope and dream again despite the destruction" brought about by the deluge. We have to make do with whatever we have. However, we should not "rest on our laurels". We should be vigilant and accomplish what are still to be done as mentioned above until the vision of Infanta become a reality. And what is that vision?
As stated in the book Infanta, Passage to the Pacific published by the BPI Foundation Inc., Makati City, 2004: "We envision Infanta to be a healthy, peaceful, and prosperous community of God loving, self-reliant and self-directing citizenry, with a diversified industry, progressive economy, balanced ecology, and a local leadership that is committed to social justice and equality."
Then and only then we could say out hometown of Infanta, to paraphrase Rizal´s recollection of his hometown -- a "lovely town rich in fountain of felicities and memories shall come back as the birds return at the budding of the flowers"-- when once again our formerly barren fields are luxuriant green, teeming with vegetables, crops, fruits and golden grains of palay. But more than nostalgia, the importance and future of our hometown is built on local autonomy, self-reliance and faith in the Divine Providence of the people.
Posted Nov. 12, 2005