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INQUIRER MINDANAO

New Bataan won’t step out of harm’s way

/ 11:14 PM October 19, 2013

Officials of typhoon-ravaged New Bataan in Compostela Valley province are appealing to the national government to reconsider its proposal of moving the town elsewhere, saying that it should strengthen disaster mitigation instead.

Mayor Lorenzo Balbin also called on for more assistance as his constituents were still struggling 10 months after Typhoon “Pablo” devastated the place, killing hundreds and wiping out livelihoods.

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“It would be difficult for entire communities to be relocated. People would now be far from their farms, their means of living,” Balbin said.

According to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), New Bataan’s location in the middle of a valley was susceptible to landslides and flooding during heavy downpour, thus posing danger to its communities.

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The agency had recommended the abandonment of Barangay Andap and the town center of Cabinuangan, 7 kilometers apart, which were both devastated during Pablo’s fury, according to Balbin.

Nowhere to go

Balbin said it would be hard to transfer New Bataan because an area safe and wide enough to take in thousands of families was nowhere to be found.

Maps prepared by the Department of Science and Technology revealed that such area was limited to only within 189.19 hectares—a miniscule 0.27 percent of New Bataan’s total territory of 68,860 ha.

“You see, Poblacion alone is 205 ha. As per MGB, all of New Bataan isn’t safe anymore, so where would we look for another area [as big and as safe] for relocation?” Balbin asked during a visit last Friday.

Balbin said debris flow—a mixture of mud, rocks, boulders and uprooted trees—caused by Pablo totaled 20 million to 30 million cubic meters, covering 2,472 ha or about the size of Makati City.

Instead of relocating, the town should be rebuilt and protected by strengthening its disaster mitigation capabilities. These efforts included the rechanneling of Mayo River, the main waterway that changed course during Pablo’s onslaught and flooded Andap and the poblacion, Balbin said.

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The mayor said he had asked the national government to help de-silt the river, as well as creeks and other waterways crisscrossing Cabinuangan. A protective dike from Andap to the poblacion should be built to protect lower communities.

Selective mitigation

“I was told disaster mitigation is so costly, but I don’t think so,” Balbin said. “What we’re seeing is, we do a selective type of mitigation, one step at a time.”

Asked how much disaster mitigation efforts would cost, Balbin could not give exact figures. “Definitely, it’s not in the trillions.”

For Winston Aylmer Camarinas, Mindanao coordinator for the United Nations Development Program’s  (UNDP) crisis prevention and recovery program, the local government  was faced with a tough choice on what to do with the MGB recommendation.

“Even the MGB declared (New Bataan) no longer safe. Of course, the MGB has the scientific basis to say that,” Camarinas said.

At least 452 people were killed when Pablo slammed into New Bataan in the early hours of Dec. 4 last year. Another 437 are still missing and presumed dead—some 292 persons from the hardest-hit Andap and 145 in Cabinuangan.

The typhoon destroyed or damaged some 10,000 houses in New Bataan, sending almost all of the town’s 48,520 residents huddling in evacuation centers.

2 tent cities

As of October 11, some 70 families were still living in two tent cities in the municipality, according to social welfare officials.

Balbin said the outpouring of support from groups here and abroad helped New Bataan in its slow road to recovery.

National agencies, such as the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and international organizations, such as the United Nations, and foreign governments immediately responded to help rebuild New Bataan.

The DSWD was able to build 72 temporary shelters in Cabinuangan, while 146 permanent duplex-type houses are being constructed in several villages in New Bataan.

President Benigno Aquino III has allocated some P50 million for the construction and repair of destroyed and damaged houses in typhoon-stricken areas in Compostela Valley alone. The funding was being coursed through the DSWD.

Camarinas, the UNDP coordinator, said the UN agency was helping local government units in Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental strengthen their disaster risk management capabilities, training planners while assisting in the recovery and rehabilitation phase.

Debris management

The UNDP has poured about $1.8 million (over P70 million) in aid for debris management efforts in the two provinces.

Debris management, according to Camarinas, included debris clearing in typhoon-affected areas and turning this into livelihood projects.

“In New Bataan, the UNDP spent P35 million for cash-for-training and cash-for-work programs related to debris management. We trained typhoon survivors in various carpentry skills, gave them tools and paid them daily wages equivalent to 75 percent of the minimum wage in the region (P226/day) so they could have some income,” Camarinas said.

“It helped a lot in maintaining their dignity for they earned out of their efforts, and not rely just on doles,” he said.

He said the UNDP would continue partnering with local governments as well as the national government in assisting disaster-stricken areas.

Seeming normalcy

Balbin said a semblance of normalcy had been restored in New Bataan.

“People who left [and went] to safe areas outside New Bataan are starting to come back. The public market was already bustling with activity a month after the disaster. We have high hopes we could bounce back before the year ends,” he said.

“In fact,” he added, “we already resumed projects that were halted due to Pablo like the concreting of roads leading to interior barangay (villages).”

What was pressing though was for the people to recover fully economically, Balbin said.

New Bataan’s chief agricultural products are rubber and coconut, both long-term crops. At least 400 ha of rubber plantations were destroyed and thousands of coconut trees were toppled or uprooted by the typhoon.

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TAGS: Compostela Valley, disaster, Inquirer Mindanao, New Bataan, Regions, Typhoon Pablo
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