RESIDENTS of Guagua in Pampanga refuse to bend to the forces of nature as government officials and non-government organizations have been waging a war against the negative effects of climate change on this town with seemingly good results.
What would you do if you live in a town that sinks at the rate of 1.7 to 8.3 centimeters yearly in an area that is virtually a catch basin for flood water draining in from the western border towns of the province?
The town of Guagua is, literally and figuratively, stuck in a quagmire as it faces this dilemma each year. And with climate change causing ocean levels to rise by two millimeters yearly, the people of the town faces the difficulty of draining flood waters into Pampanga Bay which drains into Manila Bay.
Report of local subsidence recorded from North Harbor, Manila to Obando, Paombong and Hagonoy in Bulacan also include Guagua. Subsidence was recorded between two and nine centimeters every year. Excessive groundwater extraction greatly contributes to the subsidence. These towns are sinking at rates more than 10 times faster than the rise of oceans.
Despite of this, Guagua is still the economic center of Pampanga's second district. It is among Pampanga’s densely populated areas, with a population of 111,199 since 2010. The town's population is expected to at least double by 2021.
Guagua is also home to the biggest public market in Pampanga and a couple of schools and business establishments that contribute to water consumption.
It shares the fate of neighboring Sasmuan villages of five Batang I and II, Mabuanbuan, Sebitanan and Malusac, which are sinking.
But even without the subsidence, Guagua has been historically a flood-prone town. It is only a meter above sea level and is traversed by several creeks and tributaries during rainy days, which collect and convey floodwater to the Guagua River and into the Manila Bay.
Aggravated by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo and lahar flow, which silted water channels in the town, Guagua is now one of the most vulnerable municipalities, aside from Sasmuan, to the impacts of climate change in the province.
The number of individuals affected by floods had been increasing since 2000. Floods in 2008 alone affected 113,485 persons from 22,697 families and flooding that typically lasted for three months was estimated to have affected P90 million worth of business. In 2007, the destruction of crops was valued at P3.90 million, considered the worst in recent times.
Guagua Mayor Dante Torres had initiated the project of rehabilitating the mangrove vegetation of the town near its water channels. This is in the hope of curtailing back flow water from water channels that drain toward the sea and also to provide home for fish to thrive.
Historical data show that Guagua’s water channels that drain toward the Manila Bay were once home to lush mangrove forests.
“We started with a few kilometers and we hope to return every year to continue planting more saplings,” Torres said.
Torres added that mangrove forests will enable the development of small ecosystems for fish life. A kilometer of mangrove forests in fact produces some one ton of fish every year according to studies.
Torres had also conducted several tree planting activities in the town. Guagua’s eastern barangays are among the least areas with plant cover. Tree planting activities in several barangays were conducted in a bid to introduce trees in areas that are severely flooded each year. The trees once fully grown will also contribute in preventing soil subsidence to a certain extent.
Torres also hopes to turn an area of the mega dike in Betis District into an eco-tourism haven that will showcase local artists and their works.
Torres said the area is located near the lateral dike area near the town where the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) had constructed an asphalt overlay.
"We hope to create a tourism destination for our people while emphasizing the need to protect the environment," Torres said.
The mayor added that the area has already developed a reputation as a destination for joggers and bikers. He said the development of the area would be crucial for its protection, as the area has already shown signs of lush vegetation from the wild shrubs and trees that grew through the years.
The Municipal Government also plans to plant more trees in the area, which is expected to shelter works of Guagua artists and a potential location for training on the arts.
A climate change adaptation plan is also in the works for the town to further guide government policies on adaptive initiatives and programs.
A study by Cosio, R. De Jesus, N. and Soriano, H. Jr. entitled “Climate Change Vulnerability and Adaptive Capacity of Guagua,” Pampanga advised innovative steps such as the information, promotion of early warning system, and transfer of market location during flooding for the town.
As such, the local government unit has been regularly monitoring typhoons since 1991, as well as 24-hour rainfall monitoring. Guagua, currently, is among the towns with the most number of disaster response equipment in Pampanga.
Despite the lack of resources, the locals believe that their adaptive capacity can be improved with enough planning along with government and sectoral support.
Published in the SunStar Pampanga newspaper on October 10, 2017.
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