A flood of ideas

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By Roberto P. Alabado III

Planning Perspectives

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


LAST week the region experienced “bed” weather conditions. It was expected to worsen into a typhoon but soon fizzled out thus sparing the region from strong winds but still rains came with floods destroying crops and infrastructure, triggering landslides and causing death.

Monitoring the news updates, I saw a segment which stated that the weather pattern of the country is already changing since the typhoons will now start entering the country in the southern part of the country rather than in Luzon. I would definitely agree that during the months of November, December and January typhoons really enter the country through Mindanao and southern Visayas. Past years testify this with the various calamities that wrecked destruction in Cagayan de Oro, Butuan, Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley all occurring during these months. These are the months that we in Mindanao should always be on the lookout; after which it will be Luzon and Visayas’ turn to receive the brunt of the storms.

While we see destruction in our farmlands and crops, Mother Nature may see it the other way around. The floods that occur is nature’s way of replenishing the fertility of the plains by depositing silt and mud which is full of decomposed materials from the mountains. In a recent program in one of the science channels of cable TV, it showed that when humans interfered with the natural cycle of floods by building flood control dams, farmlands surrounding the river suffered poor fertility after just a few years. This has happened in the Egypt and China among others.

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On the other hand, the flooding occurring in the marshlands of Agusan is also just a natural occurrence. The Agusan marshland is the catchment of the various waterways of the region designed by nature to accommodate floodwaters. Human settlements built in such region must consider this first just like the Lumads living within the marshlands. The Lumads live with nature by anticipating its flood cycles and building houses that float when rivers overflow.

What am I pointing out here? We live within the web of life where flooding, typhoons and earthquakes are part of natural cycle so we have to learn to live with these. If we know floods recur in the area then we must have an economy and settlement pattern that can survive the floods. Houses must be built above the highest level of floods that history can recall. If you must build a house on a floodplain be sure that the house can survive the power of the strong currents as well be well above the flood level.

Agriculture must also adapt to the situation, I know that our scientists have developed rice varieties that can survive the floods despite being submerged underwater for days. The local agriculturists can start by ensuring that these rice varieties are adopted by rice farmers during the flood season of Mindanao. This way the risks of a total crop failure are minimized. Just one crop failure for a poor rice farmer is enough to condemn his family to indebtedness and hunger.

Agriculture is also one of the keys to minimize the impact of floods in the lowlands. I once talked with a colleague of mine who visited India, he observed that in some parts of India rainwater harvesting is widely practiced by the agriculture sector. Mountainous areas are dotted with terraces, ponds and small lakes. This allow farmers access to water even during the dry season at the same time minimize the amount of run-off rainwater that may flood the lowlands.

If we are to adopt this strategy, then farmers must be assisted and encouraged to build water impoundment facilities within their farms. These can be a source of water during dry season but can also be used to raise some fish and duck to augment their income. Think of all the balut and patotim we can have if many farmers will adopt this. Communal ponds can be constructed so that much larger impoundment systems can be used as fishponds to raise a variety of fish like tilapia, hito and dalag. I heard that raising catfish can be more profitable than planting rice.

If we can construct these in the numerous upland areas of our region then we will be hitting many birds with just one stone. We will increase the food security of the upland areas where water for irrigation is a problem during dry season. We will reduce the risks of flooding in the lowlands by storing runoff in upland areas and we will allow the aquifers of our region to be replenished by allowing the rainwater to seep into our underground water systems rather than allow it to be wasted to the seas.

Floods have destroyed crops and settlements since humankind learned to live in permanent settlements and practice agriculture. But since floods are really part of nature’s cycle then we must learn to live with them. Let us avoid building settlements where floods are likely to occur frequently (please check with the terrain analysis of MGB and your local planning office) and preserve these floodplains as farmlands to serve as buffer zones. Our agricultural crops in these flood risk areas must also be adapted to flooding by planting flood resistant varieties. If we want to lessen the volume of floodwaters in the lowlands, agriculture agencies must initiate steps to construct rainwater impoundment systems in the upland areas.

Let us not blame nature for doing its job of replenishing the fertility of the floodplains. Let us blame ourselves for getting in her way.

rpalabado@gmail.com

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on January 23, 2014.

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