Like most Filipinos, I try to make light of the devastation that happened to Dumaguete and some neighboring towns during the February 7 flood. But I am actually smarting because repairing a downed fence costs money and every time I pass by Angatan, the capilya is overflowing with the flood victims whose homes were washed away in the Banica River. And though not much talked about anymore, lives were lost in that flash flood, mostly from families living in makeshift shanties along the Banica River. I asked Ellyn why her relatives made their balay-balay at the slopes of the Banica and she replied simply that it was free land, libre man.
Each time I pass by the overflow at the Banica, I see civilian men "working" in the river. I don't know exactly what they are doing. Digging the bed to make it deeper? Removing debris and fallen trees that hamper the free flow of water downstream? Or gathering sand in sand bags to line their houses by the river bank? Would these sand bags really be an effective dam the next time a flood of similar magnitude comes to Dumaguete? Noticeable also would be the makeshift houses that are back by the riverside. It's incredible that they would still want to go on living there.
I am posting here an article in today's local paper, Metropost, by a man I admire and respect, environmentalist and former DENR secretary, Dr. Angel Alcala and his fellow environment advocates.
Statement of Concern
The vehemence of recent floods occurring so close to one another (Dec. 31, 2008 and Feb. 7, 2009) causing deaths, displacement, and terrible damage to property and the environment has left many speechless with disbelief and dismay.
Why were the consequences of this weather event so severe this time when it was but a depression, not a typhoon, that caused heavy rainfall for about 20 hours? Is this going to happen more frequently? Are the housing projects on dry riverbeds safe, given the fact that the course of rivers change, and that dry riverbeds are now being reclaimed by nature?
The very few forest trees left in our watershed can no longer absorb the volume of rain thus, resulting to erosion and landslides. The loss of Negros Oriental's forest cover has been dramatic. The old forest cover has dwindled to patches leaving us today with with only 5 percent of forest area as compared to that in 1875. (1992 statistics DENR)
During the floods, many trees by the river banks fell, and more are at rick of falling with every flood as their roots are now exposed.
The Candau-ay dump site by the Banica River lies along the path of floods strewing garbage, mostly plastics, all along the banks up to the sea. The Valencia open dump site garbage also was carried by the flood waters to Dumaguete City.
The critical importance of watersheds has long been known. What attention have past and present administrations paid to protecting watersheds? What significant efforts were made to reforest? We are told that generally, only about 10 % of trees planted in reforestation programs survive because replanting is not accompanied by effective monitoring and support efforts.
It is also important to be mindful of energy development, agricultural and mining activities that encroach into our precious forests, and even into protected areas, bringing high risk of damage to the already fragile environment.
Much environmental damage can be reversible and therefore, solutions are of utmost urgency, but we see no evidence that the urgency is understood and acted upon.
One of the basic rights in our Philippine Constitution is the right to a balanced and healthful ecology. We need to be working together to address the challenges posed to our common watersheds. The time is now for civil society groups and government agencies to come together to map out a comprehensive plan for environmental protection and rehabilitation.
"Prosperity build on the despoliation of the natural environment is no prosperity at all. It is only a temporary reprieve from future disaster." (Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General)
Is the future upon us now?
Photos by Hersley Casero, a Dumaguete based artist/photographer, who is currently holding an art exhibit at the Sidlakang Negros in Piapi. Hersley's house was affected by the February 7 flood and almost all their things were damaged.