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Gov't knew CDO was the 'next Marikina' - climate change expert

Sendong's aftermath
Before After
Before After
Photos courtesy of Google Earth and Climate Change Commissioner Yeb Seno | Presentation developed by InterAksyon

MANILA, Philippines - Months before tropical storm “Sendong” slammed into northern Mindanao last weekend, triggering deadly flashfloods that killed more than a thousand people, the Aquino administration was made aware that what happened in Marikina during 2009’s storm “Ondoy” could very well be replicated in Cagayan de Oro, an expert on climate change effects said Thursday.

At a press conference called by the Climate Change Congress of the Philippines, space technology expert Dr. Esteban Godilano said the threat to Cagayan de Oro was presented to various government agencies in a river basin planning workshop sometime in July.

"Alam na nila 'yan. Tatlong beses akong nag-present doon. Una noong National Summit on the Impact of Climate Change sa buong Mindanao, sa Cagayan de Oro din (They know that. I made a presentation three times. The first was during the National Summit on the Impact of Climate Change on the whole of Mindanao, which was also held in Cagayan de Oro)," Godilano said. "Siguro naghahanap pa ng pondo, kaya lang inabot na ng delubyo (Maybe they were still looking for funds, thus they were overtaken by the deluge). The rest is history."

During this conference, Godilano said he presented to government officials a specific climate change map of Cagayan de Oro, which showed the impact of a heavy downpour.

Among the agencies at the summit were the Department of Interior and Local Government, Department of National Defense, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which said, in the aftermath of Sendong’s passage, that it had made geohazard maps available to local government units right after the 2010 elections.

According to Godilano's maps, the Cagayan de Oro watershed spans a vast 177,000 hectares of land and river systems in Misamis Oriental and the neighboring provinces of Bukidnon and Lanao del Norte, an area three times larger than the 54,000-hectare Marikina River watershed.

"Ganoon kalaki. Kung hindi man umulan sa Cagayan de Oro, umulan naman sa Bukidnon at Lanao del Norte, so lahat ng basura ng soil erosion, ng illegal logging, dinala doon papunta sa Cagayan de Oro at Iligan (It’s that big. Even if it doesn’t rain in Cagayan de Oro, if it rains in Bukidnon and Lanao del Norte, all the garbage of soil erosion, of illegal logging, is brought to Cagayan de Oro and Iligan)," Godilano said.

Godilano, also a CCCP board member, said these things LGUs do not see when undertaking disaster response planning, precisely because they only take into account their respective political boundaries.

But the effects of calamities on watersheds cause ripple effects in other provinces as well.

"Three years ago pa namin sinasabi (we were saying) that we need to look at watersheds as a planning domain. Walang nakikinig. Itong mapa ay naipresenta ko na ng tatlong beses sa (No one listened. This map I presented three times in) Cagayan de Oro," he said.

Geohazard maps not enough

Godilano, who had begun drafting a national-scale climate change map for the Philippines in 2003, said geohazard maps such as the DENR’s -- while certainly helpful in some cases -- are not enough as the country faces the effects of climate change.

The geohazard maps were produced by surveying the geology, landforms, slopes and barangay centers in particular areas of the country, he said.

Climate change maps, on the other hand, consider extreme climatic events such as rainfall, typhoons, humidity and cloudiness; slope; erosion potential in the area; land cover; land use; ground water potential; and soil texture, among many other factors.

"They did only the past and present incidents. What we did is to look at the past, present and future scenarios based on the impact of climate change," he said.

He also said the geohazard maps distributed to LGUs were “too technical” and need to be translated “to layman’s terms” so these can be fully utilized.

"In the first place, assuming that these (maps) were indeed distributed, (they) are able to show only landslide and flooding areas within the LGU area, but not the overall watershed boundaries," the CCCP said in a statement. "Thus, the Cagayan de Oro LGU had no control over the water and debris coming from the 174,000 hectares in the upland provinces surrounding it."

Godilano's maps also showed the Cagayan de Oro watershed largely denuded -- partly due to illegal logging, partly due to mining, the CCCP said -- so all water and debris cascading down is immediately channeled through the silted Cagayan de Oro river, "thus making Cagayan de Oro and other low-lying areas a large catch basin."

"If the rains are heavy and furious, catastrophic floods are therefore not difficult to predict for Cagayan de Oro, Iligan and other low-lying areas," the group said.

Downscaling the maps

In Godilano's climate change maps, practically 60% of the country is vulnerable to natural disasters.

He further claimed that all the catastrophic disasters in recent memory were depicted by his maps.

"Kaya ang gusto ko, i-downscale ang data by province, by municipality and by barangay, para lahat magkaroon ng mapa (Which is why I want to downscale the date by province, municipality and barangay, so everyone can have a map)," he said.

Once the maps are downscaled and rendered in three-dimensional format, the government will be able to effectively draw up responses to natural calamities.

"Kung malaman mo na ang impact (ng bagyo) sa lugar mo, halimbawa ay flooding lang, hindi na kailangang i-relocate. May solusyon (If you know that the impact of a storm in your place is, for example, only flooding, then you don’t need to relocate. There is a solution)," he explained.

"Ngayon kung ang potential impact ay soil erosion, flooding, drought at landslide, eh 'di kailangan nang i-relocate (Now, if the potential impact is soil erosion, flooding, drought and landslides, then you do need to relocate)," he added.

Godilano urged government to make the climate change maps publicly available -- over the Internet if possible -- because "lives are at stake here."

The DENR reportedly charges P500 for the maps posted on its website.

To downscale the climate change maps down to the barangay level will cost government around P700 million, Godilano said but added the expense could be trimmed if provincial governments shoulder the cost of downscaling the maps of their provinces.