EDITORIAL - Flood mitigation

The Philippine Star

It’s not the typhoon season, but in just the first two weeks of the year, 17 people have died from mudslides and torrential floods in parts of the Visayas and Mindanao as well as the Bicol region. The death toll is in addition to about 50 people who died, with 19 still missing, during the Christmas holidays.

Northern Mindanao or Region 10 has been the worst hit, with Misamis Occidental seeing the highest number of casualties. Weather experts attributed the incessant heavy rainfall to a series of low-pressure areas combined with a shear line – a point where warm and cold air meet, triggering rain.

Filipinos are used to the dangers posed by tropical cyclones of varying intensities, powerful storm surges and heavy rainfall induced by the monsoons. Disaster response contingency plans are set in motion depending on cyclone categories as well as rainfall and wind alerts issued by weather forecasters.

But many people, including local government executives who handle emergency rescue and disaster mitigation efforts, are still unfamiliar with the dangers posed by a shear line and off-season weather disturbances. Both the national and local governments also seem helpless in minimizing the destruction caused by heavy flooding.

This need not be the case. People build homes near waterways even if they are aware of the risks during heavy rainfall and floods. But experts have pointed to possible interventions to mitigate flooding. Among some long-term solutions are reforestation and the revival of dwindling watersheds, and the construction of dikes and structures to redirect water flow. Other interventions include dredging and reduction of siltation, and the strict enforcement of no-build easement zones along waterways.

Along the Cagayan River, the longest in the country and the largest based on water volume, some local officials and communities have started developing walls of trees near the riverbanks to minimize the impact on inhabited areas when the water level rises. Water paths are also being redirected to reduce the destruction caused by the torrential floods that regularly hit the communities and farms in the Cagayan Valley. Reforestation and the campaign to fight illegal logging are continuing efforts that need to be boosted.

People who make a living from the sea also cannot be expected to relocate too far away from the shore. But effective evacuation protocols can be set in place, in coordination with the weather bureau and disaster mitigation offices, in case of weather disturbances.

Climate change is leading to more frequent extreme weather disasters. The Philippines, identified by experts as one of the countries most vulnerable to global warming, cannot afford to be caught unprepared.

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