FASTLANES: Floods, mostly man-made. By BenCyrus G. Ellorin

After almost a week of debates by leading scientists from all corners of the globe came the scientific consensus embodied in the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC: "An increasing body of observations gives a collective picture of a warming world and other changes in the climate system… There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities."

Climate change may have something to do with the recent disasters that hit the city.

Poring through the data at Pag-asa last Friday, I was dumbfounded to discover that the amount of rain that hit the city in the first 15 days of 2009 is almost 25% of the annual average rainfall of Cagayan de Oro. Based on a 30-year average, the city receives 1,654.3 millimeters of rain every year, with July as the rainiest with 244.1 mm and March the driest with 44.8 mm.

Records from Pag-asa revealed that the rains from January 1-15 totaled 381.7 mm or 23.07% of the total annual rainfall average of the city based on the 30-year average used by the agency. January has an average rainfall of 82.8 mm making the January 1-15 rains 461% above normal or almost 1/4 of the city's annual rainfall in 1/24th of the year.

These data should prod Cagayanons and its policy makers to undertake fast and meaningful action as our weather could be erratic the rest of the year and in the years to come due to climate change and an over-exploited environment. As demonstrated in the past two weeks or so, catastrophe is sure to hit us when extreme weather events come.

Archbishop Antonio Ledesma in his letter on the calamity, dated Jan. 14, 2009, said:

"Even as we attend to the immediate needs of displaced families, we must not lose sight of the long term factors that have aggravated the effects of natural calamities. Among these man-made factors are:

Continued logging operations in the upstream areas of the city; these include the more remote areas of the city and watershed areas in the ARMM region and Bukidnon;

Hydraulic flush mining that have caused the heavy siltation of Iponan River and its tributaries; Small-scale and large-scale mining in other upland areas of the city; Lack of solid waste management that has led to clogging of the city's drainage canals; Similarly housing developments that have obstructed the natural flow of water.

In my previous column, I made four recommendations namely:
1)  Improve our disaster preparedness in view of climate change;
2)  Conduct a comprehensive watershed physical characterization of the Cagayan de Oro River and its tributaries;
3)  Develop a flood warning mechanism; and
4)   Implement a comprehensive reforestation and river rehabilitation program in the Cagayan de Oro River and its tributaries.

I am adding a fifth which is for the local government unit, in coordination with concerned government agencies like the Environment Management Bureau, the focal agency of the climate change task force, to convene a multi-stakeholder group to craft the city's Climate Change Adaptation Strategy.

Archbishop Ledesma further said, "Many other factors have to be reviewed carefully by public officials with the participation of civil society groups. The church and other parish communities are ready to join and support all these efforts for a safer, cleaner and brighter Cagayan de Oro and surrounding areas."

Our local government unit, including our two representatives in the House of Representatives, Cong. Rufus Rodriguez and Cong. Klarex Uy should enlist the participation of civil society groups, the church, even business, the academe and everyone concerned to contribute their hearts and minds in addressing these problems.

President Arroyo promised around 250 million pesos for calamity relief and rehabilitation in the aftermath of the January 3 floods. We can imagine some official salaciously awaiting this big piece o
f bread.

We have heard of many grand plans like river dredging, construction of more dikes and other engineering and infrastructure solutions. While we do not disagree with appropriate engineering solutions, we should be wary as we know fully well the almost perfect template of corruption in infrastructure projects where contractors are just too willing to allocate huge "bukol" as Jun Lozada would term it, or kickbacks to government officials.

We urge the LGU and concerned government line agencies to be TRANSPARENT in allocating these funds. It should infuse the correct science by inviting inputs from experts from various fields of applied and social sciences from other stakeholders.

In a speech during the Live 8 Concert in London three years ago, Bill Gates said that solving the world's problem is doable. He mentioned two things: 1) understand the problems, which we are all capable of doing, and 2) put the resources to the solutions of the problems.

(The writer is an environmentalist and community worker. Comments can be sent to [email protected])

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