Looking For Hope Amidst Disasters
Guest Blog by Joseph F. Nacino
The many islands of the Philippines have always been bountiful—bounded with deep waters full of fish, verdant with vegetation, and blessed with rich soil. But it’s also constantly wracked by natural disasters year after year, ranging from seasonal typhoons to the occasional fitful volcanos and rumbling earthquakes.
This is because the Philippines is located both along the Ring of Fire—an area in the Pacific region where many volcanic eruptions and earthquakes happen—as well as the typhoon belt. Yearly, the country is hit by around 80 typhoons that develop over the tropical waters. Nineteen of these enter the Philippine region, and 6-9 of them make landfall. These all leave their mark, either people dead or severely affecting the infrastructure and economy.
In 2020 alone, aside from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Philippines started off the year with the eruption of the Taal Volcano that caused heavy ashfall in the nearby provinces—including the capital, Metro Manila. In August, a 6.6-magnitude earthquake hit one of the country’s provinces. Out of the 20 tropical cyclones that entered the Philippine Area of Responsibility, 12 made landfall.
Climate change has also affected the Philippines in terms of severity and frequency of natural disasters, with El Niño causing drought and stronger storms. For the latter, consider Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Supertyphoon Yolanda) in 2013 that killed at least 6,000. Rising sea levels are also expected to affect the country (more of this later).
That’s why when I first heard about the solarpunk anthology being created by World Weaver Press about stories of multispecies cities, preferably set in the Asia-Pacific region, I was stumped in coming up with an idea for this. Creating stories set in the Philippines related to the natural environment and climate change isn’t a problem for me. What took me awhile to think about was the fact that since this was a solarpunk anthology, I had to come up with a more “hopeful” story than what I was used to.
After all, year after year, after every disaster, the Philippines has to implement recovery and rehabilitation efforts, but it hasn’t made as many strides in implementing disaster risk reduction planning and activities. What’s more, we’ve been slow to integrate these with climate change adaptation and sustainable development policies.
In 2009, Typhoon Ketsana—known locally as Tropical Storm Ondoy—paralyzed Metro Manila with flash floods caused by heavy rainfall of 17.9 inches (455 millimetres) in just one day. Because of this, open-sourced flood maps detailing possible danger areas like Project Noah were later used by the government as part of their disaster risk reduction efforts. (Sadly, this was later defunded, and reverted back to the academe and private sector groups for their use.) So yes, we sometimes learn—but always at a cost. And given the track record of the national government, any efforts to address would be probably too little, too late.
Given this overall situation, how could I write a story about hope? With “Mariposa Awakening,” I had to include all these elements. The main problem faced by the protagonists (and the country) in the story is the rising sea levels in the future. By 2100, projections of sea level rise would range from two to four meters, with 1.5 million people in the coastal and low-lying areas of the country being affected. This meant that whatever hopeful solution that could address this would be too late—the barn door was already open and the horse had already fled.
That’s when I thought that this story doesn’t end after the natural disaster happens. No, this story begins after the disaster, with the country slowly slipping under the sea waters. That’s where this story begins, and what happens next is what we usually do here in the Philippines: we survive, we rebuild, and we try to find hope to give to the next generation of Filipinos. That’s the hopeful part of this story.
Joseph F. Nacino writes for a living. He also writes stories that have been published in international (Fantasy Magazine, City in the Ice, Kitaab’s Asian Speculative Fiction) and local publications (the Philippine Speculative Fiction series, A Time of Dragons, Friendzones, etc.). Likewise, he’s helmed three anthologies featuring fantasy, science fiction, and horror in the Philippines published online, and in print and ebook form.
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