Floods and water scarcity in the same areas?

FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras - The Freeman

Except for a few unbelievers, climate change is real and the unusual weather disturbances are proof. For the past years, some countries are experiencing too much rainfall while others have very long dry seasons. The recent flooding in Pakistan that has already killed thousands of people is happening when California and some parts of France have forest fires. Gases and pollutants from the Earth have disturbed the atmosphere and altered outer space. While global efforts are ongoing to address greenhouse gas, decarbonization, greening and other corrective actions to delay climate change, there’s an immediate need to address the flooding and water scarcity problem, some of them happening in the same areas at the same time.

There are many places where flooding and water scarcity occur at almost the same time of the year. Some are cities in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and other countries below the equator, but now there are also countries above the equator experiencing simultaneous flooding and water shortage. This include areas in the Philippines, Metro Cebu among them. While this problem didn’t happen overnight but after years of neglect, it’s getting worse and could worsen if not addressed. It’s good the newly-elected local officials are attacking this problem now, as the solutions is going to take years to implement. Cebu City Mayor Rama’s initiatives are in the right direction and with political will and the cooperation of the neighboring mayors, we are hopeful.

Cebu is shaped like a banana with bulging center where Cebu City is located. This shape and the topography of only 30% flatland, isn’t ideal for water retention, as water runoff from high ground is faster. When the island was heavily forested and rivers had thick sand and gravel, it mitigated the downstream flow of rainwater. Increasing population, urbanization, and industrialization reduced forest cover to less than 20%, sand and gravel, which act as a natural dam, was scoured. There have been very little effort to retard the flow of water from the mountains.

The lack of planning and enforcement in the urban areas of Metro Cebu is the other part of the flooding and water scarcity conundrum. While the lack of geo-spatial mapping and planning in the 1950’s to 1970’s is forgivable, we should know and do better now. Haphazard urbanization has blocked the natural waterways and even covered sinkholes. Garbage in waterways up to the seas are indicators of lack of enforcement. The actions of Cebu City and neighboring cities actions now to reclaiming the river and foreshore easements, restoring the river widths, desalting and declogging waterways, are the right moves. Equitable enforcement regardless of economic status and immediate execution will make these a success. I remember walking up the Lahug River from Escario Street up to the headwaters, and I saw the buildings and structures all encroaching the three-meter easements. I drank the water at the mountaintop to prove it was potable, in contrast to the dirty/filthy water under the Escario St. Bridge.

The solution to these floods and water scarcity in the same areas is not rocket science, it’s engineering and common sense. With all the studies already done, there are geo-spatial maps to show us where we can impound water in the mountain and urban areas. I remember we did build quite a number of Gabon dams, so this has to be rehabilitated and more should be built. We can fly drones during the rainy season to validate the location of the downstream flow from the mountains, and build the impounding areas accordingly. The prohibition of sand and gravel extraction has to be enforced, and we have to continue reforesting critical areas.

Restoring the ground water level in Metro Cebu area may take years but it has to be done to prevent a worsening water problem. Sourcing 25% of potable water for Metro Cebu from desalination plants and sources 30 kilometers away, would limit over-extraction of groundwater. The new buzzword on water resource management now, is not just water conservation but “water resource restoration”.


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