Luczon: The time is NOW

TROPICAL Storm Vinta came and went to most parts of Mindanao, and it was a manifestation that we live in a world different than ten years ago.

Cagayan de Oro City and Misamis Oriental province have survived the storm’s onslaught by having no casualties despite the overflowing of rivers that caused massive flooding, but its nearby provinces were unfortunate as the storm still claimed more than 100 deaths especially in the provinces of Lanao del Norte and del Sur, and parts of Zamboanga peninsula.

In Cagayan de Oro City and Misamis Oriental province, local Disaster Risk Reduction Management Councils (DRRMs) and its rescuers have learned the harrowing lessons brought by the Tropical Storm Sendong six years ago, but it cannot be said much to some rescuers and local DRRMs in other areas especially those places where there were casualties. Deaths in disasters can be a not-so-comforting indicator that there should be a further need to learn and train when it comes to disaster preparedness and educating the public about it.

The devastation caused by the storm was indeed similar to Sendong, as what some PAGASA weather specialists predicted, it was not as windy compared to “Pablo” in 2012, but the heavy rainfall especially in Bukidnon has caused a massive water volume leading downstream to Cagayan de Oro City, and so the typical flood-prone areas were badly affected, except in CM Recto Avenue and Osmeña Extension areas where the Bitan-ag Creek did not overflow, and to some extent, was miraculous if not ironic.

We have heard people saying “it is going back all over again,” “back to basics,” “going back to zero;” these were residents who were living in the flood-prone areas who were also victims of flooding since “Sendong.” And despite the warning from environmental experts, they persist to live on such critical areas, this can be understandable as not all can afford an instant transfer of houses especially if there were no cheaper housing programs as well as undeveloped areas that are safe for housing, including the infrastructure considerations to make it habitable.

The United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SGs) set an 11th agenda of which in a span of 15 years, its member countries could transform cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable communities. “Cities are hubs for ideas, commerce, culture, science, productivity, social development and much more. At their best, cities have enabled people to advance socially and economically.”

This is now a bigger challenge to cities in the Philippines, which are considered highly urbanized, including Cagayan de Oro that in order to be compliant to this UN’s 11th SDG, it has to address disasters caused by climate change, of which is also UN’s 13th SDG: Climate Action.

Local government units, including the national government, should prepare itself for the beginning of a massive relocation of residential areas away from coastal lines that are prone to floods, such move can be done in phases, and it can cost billions from the national budget. If there can be a benefit in adjusting the country’s tax reform laws, this should be the first priority.

Yes, there are economic, social, and legal implications in obliging residents to these flood prone areas to relocate, but we don’t have the luxury of time either, as the polar ice caps are melting and perhaps in 10 more years, our coastal lines will submerged underwater.

And that is why, there is a need for a working and efficient “ecosystem” that will aid in relocating people from nearby riverbanks. Because when people begin to relocate to the higher grounds, the new dwelling areas need to have a proper urban development; when people begin using untapped lands, environmental and socio-cultural factors are also important to consider - how much trees will be cut for the widening? Can these trees be replaced? Are these lands to be developed considered as Ancestral Domain by indigenous peoples, or claimed by groups of farmers?

These are the dilemmas that need to be overcome and make it beneficial to every stakeholders, not to mention that new relocation houses also need to be resilient in future storms, and with enough spaces to dwell for every family to call it a home, because there is an increasing trend of “affordable” housing that have housing units with little lot and floor areas, like it’s becoming a detention cell.

Whatever our actions today, will always yield results and consequences that the future generation is going to experience and live with it.

*****

(nefluczon@gmail.com)
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