Deforestation Blamed for WV Flooding
June 25, 2008 - The Visayan Daily Star
By Nestor P. Burgos Jr.
ILOILO CITY – Experts blame the worst flooding experienced in Western Visayas mainly to the continued depletion of trees and the conversion of agricultural lands to subdivisions and commercial areas.
Jerry Bionat, executive officer of the Iloilo Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council, said logging activities should be investigated because rampaging waters that inundated entire villages carried logs.
Mayor Isabelo Maquino of Sta. Barbara town, one of the hardest hit municipalities, told a meeting of the PDCC that the logs slammed into and destroyed or damaged bridges.
Bionat noted that the flooding hit areas previously unaffected by flood waters and many residential areas.
Water resource engineer Andrew Margarico said that while the intensity of the rainfall is a factor in the extent and magnitude of the flooding, deforestation is one of the probable main causes of the calamity.
“If there are no trees to absorb rainfall, the water will go directly downstream,” Margarico said in a telephone interview.
Scientist and environmentalist Jurgenne Primavera said the flooding showed the alarming situation of forest cover which has shrunk to less than a million hectares out of a total land area of 30 million hectares.
“Water seeks its own level and unless it is held back—by soil, roots and trees and forests-- it will go to lower areas,” said Primavera, a Pew Fellow.
She said the abnormal amount of rainfall is also a manifestation of global warming, the phenomenon characterized by general increase in temperature blamed on increasing amounts of carbon dioxide emission. Scientists have said that global warming triggers abnormal weather patters including more intense storms and floods, longer droughts and other weather disturbances.
Primavera noted that Panay Island was previously not part of the country's typhoon belt and was largely spared from onslaught of typhoons unlike other areas like Bicol and other areas in Southern Luzon, Samar and Leyte in the Visayas.
But since super typhoon Undang in 1984, Iloilo and neighboring provinces have been more frequently and directly hit by typhoons. While “Undang” flooded mostly plantations, “Frank” hit residential areas and urban centers.
“We are paying for our ecological sins,” Primavera said.
Margarico, a consultant with the Engineering Development Corporation of the Philippines, also blamed the rapid and extensive conversion of agricultural lands into residential areas like subdivisions.
Pavia town and Mandurriao District in Iloilo City are among the areas with extensive development for residential areas. He said like the trees in upland areas, agricultural lands also absorb water.
The experts said infrastructure and development projects should also be reviewed to check if these have adverse environmental impact including the blocking of natural waterways.
They cited the ongoing P8-billion Iloilo Flood Control Project set to be completed in 2010. The project which spans four kilometers aims to diver water from the Aganan and Tigum Rivers to a channel leading to open sea.
Margarico said dredged soil from the project site may have blocked natural waterways.
But Regional Director Rolando Asis of the Department of Public Works and Highways said the project has not blocked the waterways and contributed to the massive flooding.
“It's largely because of the abnormal amount of rainfall,” Asis said in a telephone interview.
Bionat admitted that the damage and number of affected persons could have been lesser if agencies and local government units were prepared and had anticipated the magnitude of the calamity.
“We did not expect that we would be hit this hard and this much,” Bionat said.
He said the path of the typhoon had diverted from projections based on satellite data.
Bionat recommended the strengthening of disaster management councils, organization of rescue groups and massive information campaign on disaster preparedness and response.
But Primavera said the roots of the problems must be addressed. She said there is an urgent need for a massive replanting especially of native trees to restore watersheds and forest cover.
She said there is also a need for more political will to protect environment.
“We must do this because in calamities, it's the poor people that suffer most.”*NPB