Coping with massive flooding

Published November 17, 2020, 11:32 PM

by Former Senator Atty. Joey D. Lina


Former Senator
Atty. Joey Lina

The trail of death and devastation in the aftermath of typhoons Ulysses, Quinta, and Rolly, the world’s strongest so far in 2020, has sparked calls for more decisive government action in coping with the crisis.

“The glorification of resilience must stop now. It is time for genuine climate action. How many more Filipinos need to suffer before you figure it out?” environmental group Aksyon Klima Pilipinas said in a statement. “We demand that the Philippine government allocate more attention, resources, and manpower towards strengthening climate change adaptation and mitigation policies and measures towards decarbonizing the economy and sustainable development.”

A tougher stance was contained in a resolution of Ateneo de Manila University’s Sanggunian ng mga Mag-aaral which read: “Whereas, the Sanggunian, realizing that the devastating effects of Quinta, Rolly, and Ulysses were exacerbated by the criminal negligence of the government, strongly urges the University to issue a public stand condemning the incompetencies of the Duterte administration.”

In asking for accountability, Aksyon Klima said: “We call on the Philippine government to hold industrialized nations accountable for their significant roles in causing the climate crisis. No country can address this crisis on its own, which is why we need them to continue actively championing the advocacy for climate justice that our country needs in international negotiations and forums.”

But, to be sure, President Duterte is cognizant of the need for developed countries to exercise “moral responsibility” to combat the disastrous effects of climate change. In his speech at the virtual opening of the ASEAN Summit last Thursday, he said that the indifference of developed countries would be “a great injustice – a double blow to those who bear the brunt of the adverse consequences of their past actions and inactions.”

Aside from the adverse effects of climate change widely believed to be responsible for stronger and more frequent typhoons, many other factors can be attributed to the widespread devastation resulting from severe flooding.

These factors include massive deforestation in watersheds, illegal logging and mining activities, lack of concrete dikes and river dredging, the release of floodwaters from dams at the height of typhoons, and many more.

The massive flooding in the Northern Luzon provinces of Cagayan and Isabela has been blamed on the Magat Dam. But Mayor Cristina Antonio, whose town of Alcala in Cagayan was submerged in floodwaters, offers some valuable insight.

In her Facebook post last Sunday, she said: “My insight is that the problem of flood in Alcala and Cagayan Valley cannot be attributed to just one cause outside of us, but to a complex, interrelated web with us right at the center.

“It’s not just about Magat Dam protocols, although in our state of despair Magat Dam is the most visible target.

“It’s about us, it’s the way we live — as if we are apart from nature, as if what we do does not come back to us. It’s us — how we have cut our trees and destroyed our forests, our soil and groundwater, how we have eaten up the land with farms and buildings.

“The problem being complex, the solution is also a combination of interventions that should be anchored on science and drawn after scientists have studied the Cagayan River itself, after they have walked its banks, felt its current, followed its meander, and seen it in its ebbs and flows.”

The gist of her message was to listen to the scientists to fight flooding. Among the scientists is Dr. Fernando Siringan, former director of the UP Marine Science Institute and one of the country’s top river and marine geologists, who conducted a study on flood and riverbank erosion in Cagayan.

And one of the recommendations was “to plant a 30-meter-wide vegetation shield of native trees to form a belt of protection for the riverbank and community — a mighty, green wall.”

“It is not dredging every which way, it is not putting up a dike here and there. It is knowing, based on sound science, what to do and what not to do where in the whole length of the mighty Cagayan River, the longest and largest in the country,” she said.

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