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Mindanao rivers offer climate lessons

/ 12:15 AM November 15, 2015

Learning from the devastation of Typhoon “Pablo” (international name: Bopha) and Tropical Storm “Sendong” (international name: Washi), Mindanao is preparing for climate change by taking a long hard look at, and rehabilitating, its critical river basins.

From the highest mountain ridges to the reefs beneath the coastal waters of Mindanao, the Mindanao Nurturing Our Waters (MindaNOW) project of the Mindanao Development Authority (Minda) is preparing river basin communities for the job of protecting watersheds and water resources by building and strengthening river basin organizations (RBOs).

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In the last three years, MindaNOW has built six major RBOs and two smaller organizations that include Mandulog RBO, which actively took part in rehabilitating the Mandulog watershed after the rampaging waters of the Mandulog River swept away communities on its path at the height of Sendong in 2011, said Joan Barrera, chief of Minda’s policy planning and project development, and Yvette Valderia, development management officer.

“The solution, which prepares us against climate change, is not in Paris or in Europe, it is right here in Mindanao,” said Lorenzo Tan, executive director of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), who was at the two-day gathering of RBOs in Mindanao that ended on Thursday, Nov. 12.

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“If you see rising sea level, Mindanao is on ground zero,” Tan said at a conference of RBOs here.

“But let’s not talk about the ice, let’s look at Davao City and when we look at Davao City, we look at the Davao River, and at other rivers surrounding it. Has Davao City looked at the areas around it to make itself ready?” Tan said.

Barrera said there are eight major river basins in Mindanao, the biggest of which is the Mindanao River Basin, with headwaters starting in Bukidnon and running its course through areas straddling North Cotabato, South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Cotabato City.

Most of the major river basins in Mindanao have headwaters in Bukidnon, including the Agusan River Basin, Mindanao’s second largest river basin, which runs through Compostela Valley, Davao Oriental down to Agusan del Sur to Butuan City where it drains into Butuan Bay.

The Davao River Basin runs through Davao City draining into the Davao Gulf. The Tagoloan River Basin runs its course from Bukidnon to Claveria, Misamis Oriental, to drain into Macalajar Bay. The Agus (Ranao) River Basin, with headwaters in Bukidnon and runs its course throughout the length of the Agus River and drains into Illana Bay.

Barrera said this was the reason the coverage of the Bukidnon Watershed Protection Council was considered to be just one river basin “because of the big role Bukidnon plays in Mindanao’s river basins.”

Since 2013, MindaNOW has started implementing key projects in Bukidnon, including the P1-billion Bukidnon Integrated Natural Resources and Environment Management Plan, to know the state of Bukidnon’s forest cover and prepare an inventory of forest resources.

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Most of the major river basins in Mindanao are prone to flooding because riverbanks have lost vegetation as a result of the depletion of forest cover. They are also wracked by heavy siltation because of soil erosion in mountain communities.

MindaNOW addressed the problem two ways—first, by rehabilitating the vegetative cover in areas leading to riverbanks through replanting and, second, by building flood mitigating structures like dikes.

“Most of our river basins are already in a sad state,” Valderia said.

“We note how the bucanas (river mouths) are heavily silted, but we still have a chance to clean up the mess, while we’re still here, we will have hope of cleaning our rivers,” she said.

By 2020, MindaNOW seeks to increase the forest cover of Mindanao’s 10 million hectares of land to at least 30 percent, from the current 23-24 percent. Barrera said the ideal forest cover in Mindanao should have been 59 percent, according to standards set by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

But it could take years to reach the goal because of continued illegal logging and other destructive practices.

She said she learned that the DENR would require local government units (LGUs) in Mindanao next year to start submitting forest land-use plans, which would also help in the inventory of remaining forest areas in Mindanao.

“Since not all LGUs have a forest land-use plan, the DENR will focus on it in 2016,” she said.

In the next 20 years, MindaNOW wants to increase RBOs’ roles so that they may be able to craft policies, enforce laws or raise funds for programs to protect river basins, depending on how prepared or strengthened the RBOs have become.

Barrera said RBOs should ideally become river basin authorities with more powers.

“Since they can’t implement projects if they are not yet that strong, our present goal is to strengthen them and institutionalize them later,” Valderia said.

Among the resolutions drafted during the two-day gathering are an agreement for RBOs to study and monitor the effects of industries on rivers and watersheds and recommend actions, one asking Minda and the Climate Change Commission to propose projects to help Mindanao LGUs gain access to the so-called People’s Survival Fund, another asking RBOs to inventory all programs for river basins and watersheds and another asking the DENR and Minda to recognize and promote good practices in river basin management.

Minda Secretary Luwalhati Antonino said that through the MindaNOW program, Minda hopes to attain environment integrity and sustainable economic growth by developing RBOs.

Minda facilitated the allocation of some P9.5 billion for six priority flood-control projects in the Mindanao River Basin.

At least P2.2 billion has been released in October for projects like flood-control systems along the Rio Grande de Mindanao and several other rivers.

Antonino said MindaNOW had tapped 22 partners for activities and projects adopting the ridge-to-reef approach to protecting river basins.

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TAGS: DENR, Mindanao, MindaNOW, Regions, Typhoon Pablo, typhoon sendong
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