MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/19 December) – A reader from Worcester, England, reacting to my December 17 column “The other culprit,” shared commonsensical ideas on how to mitigate, if not completely prevent, the occurrence of floods in cities.
Our reader cited the lessons learned from the 2007 Worcester floods, including the “idiocy of building on flood plains”. S/he suggested that in the Philippines these areas should be rice fields, not buildings. Wide flat fields are natural defenses that “contain the water and allow it to soak away into the water table, rather than erode the hillsides and riverbanks causing silting and disaster downstream of the rivers,” so goes the explanation.
Exactly the opposite, however has happened in Cagayan de Oro City, where floods spawned by Typhoon Sendong on Saturday, December 17, killed dozens of residents who were mostly asleep when the disaster struck. Large swaths of flat rice lands surrounding the city proper have been converted to commercial and residential sites in the last few years, in addition to the leveling down of hilly portions for the same purpose. Now covered with concrete, these areas can no longer perform the function of absorbing water when it rains.
The second no-no cited by our reader is the paving of ground around buildings and houses with asphalt and concrete. As everyone knows, these materials block water from seeping into the ground. Once that happens, water runs off “into the streets to overwhelm the drains and overload the rivers”. S/he suggested tearing up asphalt and concrete pavement and replaced it with stones and cobbles so that rain can penetrate down into the water table. The ground [around these structures] should be allowed to “breathe”, s/he further explained.
I haven’t seen a single building in Cagayan de Oro that uses stones or cobbles to cover the ground around it. The building and house owners should consider this suggestion as their modest contribution to mitigating floods in the city. Perhaps the local government can make a good start by requiring the big schools, hotels and malls to do it.
Those who often watch movies set in Europe may have noticed that large portions of the cities there are paved with stones and cobbles. They should realize by now that it’s not just for aesthetics and heritage conservation.
I’m sure this isn’t the first time that similar suggestions were made. But since they sound so simple, they hardly get the attention of planners and politicians. The tendency of most policymakers is to go for solutions that appear complex and highly technical – maybe because solutions with headings like “flood control program” mean a bigger budget even if the only thing that works is the flood, not the control.
On second thought, however, I would be neither surprised nor dismayed if these suggestions are routinely brushed off. Our leaders are not like those in Worcester who immediately saw their “idiocy”. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at [email protected])