Disaster management & the Marikina Watershed

AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman - The Philippine Star

During Typhoon Ulysses, all eyes were on the Marikina River. The tragedy that beset the Marikeños and their neigboring areas like Cainta and Pasig during Typhoon Ondoy can never be forgotten. One would think both national and local governments would have learned from the very painful experience, swearing it will never happen again. Unfortunately, it did!

After Typhoon Ulysses left, it also left many homes under water. No one was prepared. The Marikeños did not expect this kind of flood. As they try to analyze what happened, they continue to be perplexed. They suspect that the floodways were never opened. Usually, when it rains, the rainwater flows from San Mateo and Antipolo mountains down to the Marikina River and out to the Pasig River. This time the locals noticed that the water was coming from Pasig flowing back to Cainta and Marikina. While the mayor, Marcelino Teodoro blames everything on the release of water from Angat Dam, he never mentioned anything about the possibility of the floodwater coming from the Marikina Watershed. By the way, I think we need to restudy our Geography. Does the water from Angat Dam really pass through the Marikina River as Mayor Marcy insists?

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In 2001, Proclamation 296 was issued declaring the Marikina Watershed Reservation in Rizal as a protected area. It was renamed the upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape.

It was granted protection under Republic Act No. 7586 or the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act of 1992, which means the area is “protected against destructive human exploitation.” Despite this, illegal activities have not stopped.

It is said that floodwaters from Ulysses could have been prevented if the government “seriously restored” the forest a decade ago. The Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape (UMRBPL) is a 26,000-hectare protected area in Rizal which plays an important role in regulating water flow towards the National Capital Region.

What is a watershed? A watershed is an area of land that drains or “sheds” water into a specific body of water. In this case, water from the Sierra Madre Mountains flows through areas such as Antipolo, Baras, General Nakar, Rodriguez, San Mateo and Tanay, all the way down to rivers and waterways such as Pasig River, Marikina River and Laguna de Bay.

However, the continued destruction of the forest has affected the watershed’s natural ability to hold stormwater. When Ondoy hit in 2009, massive loss was recorded due to a failing watershed. Note that the Marikina Watershed has been protected from settlement, entry, sale and disposition since 1904 when we were still under the US colonial government.

Yet, more than a century later, rampant illegal activities such as land grabbing, illegal logging and quarrying continue. Decades of mismanagement, corruption and neglect has led us from one disaster to another. Shouldn’t the Marikeños fight to protect their environment for the future generations? It’s about time Marikeños become privy to the state of matters of their city.

The past mayor and the present mayor have been at each other’s back trying to protect their interest. Enough is enough, have some pity on your constituents who suffer every year from these catastrophes.

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Project Noah hailed by the international community as one of the best in the world for disaster resilience, big data analytics and use of high-technology for disaster response plans was trending in social media during the aftermath of Typhoon Ulysses. People continue to look for it.

It was created in the aftermath of Typhoon Sendong in 2011 and formally launched in 2012. Then president Benigno Aquino III called it the country’s ark against deluge. Project NOAH was composed of disaster mitigation and prevention component projects funded by the Department of Science and Technology. It had been instrumental in identifying areas that would be hit by hazards at a particular time. It provided hydrometeorological hazard maps, which included barangay-level flood hazard maps for major river basins, storm surge maps for coastal communities, landslide hazard maps and even hazard maps for debris flows.

Project NOAH also developed an impact assessment tool called WebSAFE and mobile application Arko that provided users with location-specific flood hazard maps, as well as storm surge and landslide hazard maps. Despite all these, the project was put to a stop due to “lack of funds.” According to then DOST Secretary Fortunato dela Peña, the deliverables of Project NOAH had already been met and the government, particularly PAGASA, would adopt the technologies produced by the program. But this never happened. They totally shelved Project NOAH.

Many government agencies who were affected by the presence of Project NOAH and who saw it as competition for funding during congressional budget hearings played it down. In fact, those in charge of climate change under the DOST must be asked why they removed Project NOAH and why they were taken off from the NDRRMC.

Whenever a disaster happens in the country, who do the media or mayors call for? Most of the time, it is Dr. Mahar Lagmay of the UP Resilience Institute who is popularly sought in making us understand the natural disaster happening and possible management that can be done.

In June 2017, UP launched its Resilience Institute (UPRI), which is tasked with providing the public with data for disaster prevention, response and mitigation. This is now led by Dr. Mahar Lagmay. Central to the institute is the NOAH Center, which is directed to assist the people and communities in climate change actions and disaster risk reductions by providing timely, reliable and readily accessible information against possible disasters, and support disaster risk reduction and management and climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts.

It is also tasked to generate science-based information, models and applications that can be used for disaster risk reduction and management, climate change adaptation and mitigation, resource management, water conservation and planning, land use, urban development and engineering designs.

Without Project NOAH, Filipinos have to rely on the PAGASA Facebook page or NDRRMC text messages, both of which do the job well but don’t provide everything the Project NOAH apps offered before. LGUs are now being told to handle disasters on their own.

In the first year of President Durterte, he called Congress to create a Department of Disaster Resilience. He said he wants a “truly empowered department characterized by a unity of command, science-based approach and full-time focus on natural hazards and disasters, and the wherewithal to take charge of disaster risk reduction; preparedness and response; with better recovery and faster rehabilitation.”

House Bill 8165 was passed for the creation of the Department of Disaster Resilience. The version of the House Bill, which underwent intensive deliberations of the joint committees on government reorganization and national defense and final approval by the committee on appropriations with a proposed initial budget of P21 billion, was presented during the plenary at the House of Representatives on Sept. 5, 2018. After it was transmitted to the Senate, I never heard anything about it anymore. It vanished in thin air. I wonder what happened?

Anyway, during this time of “blame games,” it’s good to take heed of Dr. Lagmay’s wit as he wrote in his scientific report titled, “Lessons from Disasters in the Philippines.”

“There’s no such thing as a natural disaster because all disasters are caused by human error. All disasters are man-made; they are never natural. It is the people’s poor understanding on how to address hazards and failure to use appropriate science and technology as well as hazard mitigation plans that create disasters.”

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