Don’t blame the rain

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Tuesday, September 2, 2014


I USED to like the rain. But not anymore. Especially when we, the normal folks, have to brave the streets of our urban jungles cramped with so many people but with so few roads and public transport that turn into one massive gridlock when it rains.

There is a funny meme going around about how we all leave our homes as students, dutiful government employees, teachers, and Makati office workers only to be turned into warriors, veritable “mga mandirigma,” by the mess of the public transport systems that we have or lack thereof.

When it rains, the agony and frustration is increased by not just a few notches I am sure, and most of the commuting public transform from being warriors into martyrs who suffer and die a number of times during their valiant commute avoiding open manholes and other hazards before reaching the safety of their homes.

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The case is also true in the rural areas. A sustained drizzle or a sudden heavy downpour make our rural roads and highways hazardous with most of the national roads bereft of side culverts and drainage to siphon water off the streets. What happens is the accumulation of pools of dangerous water on the road that lay waiting yet unseen by the unsuspecting motorist traversing the unlit streets.

There are then the threat of landslides, inundated farms and overflowing rivers and fishponds affecting not just the safety and convenience of the public but also their very sources of income after a heavy downpour.

We are talking about investments that have very little return in a good harvest, and it would be the case that they would earn much less or even be buried in greater debt when weather disturbances such as a low pressure area and even thunderstorms occur.

Just over the weekend, the Eastern part of the City of Cagayan de Oro was inundated including densely-populated areas of Carmen, Patag, and Kauswagan reminiscent of the January 2009 floods. Of course, the effects of Sendong, Pablo, Agaton and LPAs are still fresh in our minds.

It has come to pass that rains do not anymore conjure nippy feelings of welcome bed weather or prayed for blessings that aid the farmer during planting season. Without us noticing, the pitter-patter of raindrops on our roofs has come to mean foreboding sounds of imminent danger.

What robbed us of this once pleasant experience? Is it the case that the rains have become heavier in volume in these parts and that climate change is indeed here?

In the 2013 National Convention on Statistics, Cinco et.al. , a group of scientists from PAG-ASA/DOST, delivered a paper on “Climate Trends and Projections in the Philippines” employing statistical data from 1971 to 2012 to project the occurrences of typhoons and rainfall amounts across the three major island groups. Quite interestingly, the data projected increasing amounts of rainfall and typhoons in Luzon and Visayas but not to the same extent in Mindanao by 2020 and 2050. Perhaps, it can be said that the rains and typhoons we are experiencing in Mindanao have actually been par for the course over the decades and not exactly statistically exceptional.

If it’s not the rain, therefore, then what could be the culprit behind these debilitating floods?

We need not look far to arrive at a few possible hypotheses. In the past decade or so, what has taken place in the upland areas above Carmen and Patag? There had been unmitigated real estate development in the Lumbia area transforming once verdant water catch basins into flat concrete subdivisions incapable of holding water run-off. Further upland is also the conversion of forest watersheds into cultivated areas of expansion by agricultural capitalist enterprises in Bukidnon. The Kauswagan area from the national highway to Bonbon, including the Cagayan de Oro and Iponan rivers, then become the catch basin for all these water coming from real estate development and expanded agricultural operations in the uplands.

For sure, the water run-off could be managed if there were flood infrastructure in place to channel water away from these densely-populated areas and major road arteries. The same is also true in rural areas where farm lots and fishponds could have been spared the economically-destructive bouts of seasonal flooding if flood measures are in place. But decades of government inattention to these issues have brought us to this sorry state. And there seems to be no clear plan to resolve these in a sustained and comprehensive manner up to the present.

It looks like the floods are here to stay. But don’t blame the rain.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on September 02, 2014.

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