Flood season in the flooded plains

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Saturday, October 11, 2014


DAVAO -- Maguindanaoans or people of the flooded plains are not called people of the flooded plains for nothing.

They do live in the flooded plains downstream of the provinces of Bukidnon, North Cotabato, and Maguindanao brought down to their doorsteps by the giant Rio Grande de Mindanao and its tributaries, and the country's largest marshland, the Liguasan.

Such was the case with the enhanced wind and rainfall brought by Typhoon Ompong (international name: Vongfong) that displaced 9,500 families in 11 barangays of Sultan Kudarat town of Maguindanao late last week.

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The affected barangays are: Bulalo, Salimbao, Kalsada, Banobo, Katuli, Molaug, Gang, Makaquiling, Limbo, Lower Rebuken, and Sinditan.

The people are hanging their hopes on the multi-billion pesos infrastructure project that will start from where the floodwaters start from -- the mountains of Central Mindanao.

"Ang mga tao dito, kahit walang ulan basta madilim sa Buldon, sa Matalam, sa mga bundok, tiyak yan babahain kami," said Sultan Kudarat Mayor Shameem B. Mastura, who was checking out the flood situation in Barangay Bulalo, Thursday morning.

"Ang sagot talaga rito yung river diversion," he added.

Mayor Mastura is referring to a proposed major flood control project that will include river dikes and digging up new tributaries.

This project, recommended by the Department of Public Works and Highways through the Presidential Task Force on Mindanao River Basin Rehabilitation and Development, was formed to thresh out long-term rehabilitation and development of the river basin; the same river basin from which debilitating floodwaters come from.

The task force was created in 2010 following major flooding in Cotabato City that paralyzed livelihoods and movement in the city and surrounding towns. It has since been in July 2011 and its functions transferred to the Mindanao Development Authority, Department of Environment and Natural Resources-River Basin Coordinating Office, and the National Risk Reduction Management Council-OCD.

The study brought forth a master plan proposed by the Woodfields Consultants, Inc. (WCI) with the support of the departments of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Interior and Local Government, National Irrigation Administration, and the Office of Civil Defense (OCD).

“Ang pag-uusapan nalang ay ang kung sino ang magpopondo sa magko-conduct ng further study on engineering works and study para sa project na ito, para malaman na talaga natin kung magkano ba talaga ang pondo na kailangan natin dito,” Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao Governer Mujiv S. Hattaman told a group of journalists in Cotabato City last Friday after distributing some relief goods to flood-affected residents in barangay Bulalo.

The Mindanao River Basin is the second largest river basin in the country with a total catchment area of 21,503 square kilometers. It encompasses the cities of Cotabato and Koronadal, the provinces of Bukidnon, Maguindanao, North Cotabato, South Cotabato, and Sultan Kudarat in Region 10, 12, and the Armm.

Flooding is not unusual in the floodplains of Central Mindanao, as can be gleaned from the name of the majority of the people there – the Maguindanaos. But flooding is getting worse and worse as climate change brings in greater volume of water.

“Ang isang mahalaga, sa ngayon, nakikita natin ang solusyon. Kasi matagal na ang pagbabaha dito at paulit-ulit ang epekto nito kung hindi natin magawan ng solusyon,” the governor said.

Lester Catipay of Miriamville in Sultan Kudarat town, who was among those who got a relief pack made up of a kilo of rice, some noodle soup packs and a couple of canned goods, said they are already very used to having their homes inundated.

He can’t count how many times in a year their village is flooded.

“Sanay na kami,” was all he said when prodded to give an estimate on the number of times flooding happens in a year. This goes for the whole neighborhood, he said.

The relief pack, he said, will last them for a day since “daghan-daghan man pud mi sa among balay (there are a number of us in one house)”. He did not say how many.

Asked what the major component of the master plan is, Gov. Hataman said there will be a lot of dikes that will be constructed to prevent further erosion of riverbanks.

“Diking talaga, tapos gagawa ng maraming tributaries para hindi ma-concentrate sa main tributary and tubig. Magsisimula sa Bukidnon,” he said.

Since the Mindanao River Basin spans several regions and provinces, the Minda reported, the master plan recommends the creation of the MRB management council “to coordinate and provide directions on the effective and efficient management and development of the river basin and its resources”.

The council will be composed of representatives of the affected provincial and local government units as well as national government agencies, river basin and LGU alliance, non-government organizations, and the private sector.

“A multi-stakeholder and collaborative approach in the implementation of sustainable solutions is eyed to respond to limitations posed by geo-political boundaries and administrative jurisdictions in addressing river basin issues,” Marcia Isip, executive director of the DENR-RBCO, was quoted in a report by the Minda.

Hataman said the project, because of its size and coverage will be in the billions of pesos.

“Kung ikwenta natin, mula noon hanggang ngayon, multi-billion na man rinang damages,” he said of the damages incurred every time the river basin waters rise.

Most affected, he said, are the small farmers. Second most affected are the traders.

In the flooding that happened on the highway of Sultan Kudarat last Friday, among those stranded were journalists from Davao City who were motoring to Cotabato City to attend the launching of the EU Peace Journalism Awards at Al Nor Hotel.

They had to wait for three hours to be picked up by a military vehicle, that arrived with a much bigger military vehicle that was also offering free rides across the flooded area to those who were willing to leave their vehicles along the highway.

By the roadside, motorists were settling down ready to wait for the floodwaters to recede, which they said, can take hours.

Several others were already rolling up their pants, all set to wade through the flood. Others were clambering up trucks and buses. All other vehicles, vans and pick-ups included, were parked by the roadside.

“Usually long hours bago mag-settle ang water, and if malakas ang ulan sa nearby areas, possible natataas pa ang tubig,” said a resident when sought out to estimate how long a motorist has to wait for the floodwaters to subside. (Sun.Star Davao/Sunnex)

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on October 12, 2014.

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