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ROUGH CUTS | Floods are in the horizon again

Now the El Nino phenomenon is about to exit the country as reported by the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Sciences Administration (PAG-ASA). And according to the same agency the La Nina, an extremely wet season characterized by heavy downpour that could result to floods, is likely to set in anytime soon.

No less than the President in his many talks here in the country and abroad, always highlights the importance of readiness for calamities that may be brought about by climate change. Usually cited in his speeches are the El Nino and the La Nina phenomena. Lately, in his speeches on several occasions where his audience consisted of local government officials, farmers and fishermen the President harped more on the need for preparedness for the La Nina.

This leads us to think about the preparedness of our own Davao City for the projected rainy days that could come anytime soon.

Yes, we are certain that our local officials will again be making a lot of noise about this and that flood control project of the city government. They either justify why the projects are delayed or not implemented at all.

We are certain as well that they know what are causing the city’s main waterways to overflow and which of the rivers have the potentials to inundate the low-lying areas closer to its banks. In the same manner, our officials know what are causing the fast erosion of soil from the mountains leading to the rivers.
Unfortunately, we have yet to hear of any local legislation that will result to the implementation of projects that will address the problems identified as main causes of the flooding in the city. For example the city’s primary water way, the Davao River. It has several tributaries in the upstream. When we arrived in Davao City way back in the late 70s fresh from college, we saw people relish the sight of the raging currents of the rising water of the said river.

Residents near the river banks in fact competed among themselves in “fishing” floating wood or branches so they could use it for firewood. We have observed that no one seemed to care about the flood water reaching their houses as it was apparent the river bottom was deep then and the water could not rise this or that high. And easily it could flow out to sea as fast as the rains can deposit more water in the river.

The possibility too, is that the then condition of Davao River when continuous rains occur was also true with the rest of Davao City’s major waterways such as the Lasang and Bunawan Rivers in the north, and the Matina Pangi, Talomo, and Lizada Rivers in the south of the City.

But these days, close to half a century since we relocated in Davao City those scenes of people sort of welcoming the floods are already replaced with sights of residents carrying their belonging going to evacuation centers to get rid of the disastrous floods.

Why is this happening? We are sure most Davaoenos have the answer. This present condition of the city’s rivers and the communities along its ways including those in low-lying areas in the city’s downtown is definitely the consequence of the massive development in Davao. The same development also resulted to the steep rise in the city’s population that caused the agglomeration of informal settlers some of whom are bold enough to even settle along the dangerous river banks and even on top of areas considered marshlands.

Other than the less fortunate sector of the city’s population the more advantaged ones who landed better jobs brought about by the city’s development resulted in the rise of the so-called new “middle class.” The rise of this sector of the population was immediately taken advantage by property developers who set up low, middle, and high end residential subdivisions.

Every available vacant lots, including the slopes of the hills surrounding the city became target areas for the developers in expanding their business. And this is where the role of our local officials, especially the decision makers, is established in abetting the flood vulnerability of the city. Look at the Buhangin-Cabantian area going to Mahayag, or the airport. All that can be seen are low, middle and high-end subdivisions with hardly any trees left. The hills are flattened to give way to houses.

The same is true in the situation of the hills going to Magtuod. Trees are cut, and the hillsides are bulldozed. What else is expected but the rise of houses and residential buildings? With the trees gone the faster the soil erodes to Davao River. What follows then is the fast siltation of the river. And with the shallow bottom the faster the water overflows to the nearby communities.

And why are this “rape” of our hills and mountains happening without abandon? It is because almost always the developers of residential enclaves get what they want from the local government and the national regulators as well.

Unfortunately, our local officials have not been able to match the rapid development with legislations or programs and projects that will address its negative impact.

Yes, one councilor who unfortunately has already gone to the great beyond, the late Councilor Leonardo Avila III, strongly proposed for the dredging of the Davao River and other waterways. But his proposal did not get the support of his colleagues as well as the city’s executive department. And apparently the proposed project appeared to have been brought by the late councilor to his grave.

Then there was this talk of a JICA-proposed diversion canal leading to a temporary impounding dam just to slow down the rise of flood water of the Davao River, The temporary flood water storage was to be located somewhere between sitio Battalion and Barangay Waan. Initial studies and site inspection as well as consultations with the affected communities were already made. Now it seems the proposed flood control project is “gone with the wind.” What happened?

Meanwhile, the people in this City have just to “wait and see” what the possible La Nina will bring. Will the rains submerge some areas in the city to a new depth? Or will it push our officials to move with dispatch to find solution to the long-prevailing problem of flooding in this top Mindanao metropolis?
Or will the city just prefer to continue putting up buildings for evacuation centers where affected residents will stay while waiting for the floods to subside?


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