Experts warn of another ‘Sendong’ amid loss of forest cover
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY—A repeat of the the 2011 devastation wrought by Tropical Storm “Sendong” in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, where floods killed more than 1,000 people, is not farfetched if nothing is done about the vanishing forest cover and siltation of rivers here, environment experts and advocates warned.
“Many areas in the river basin are already barren that, if [we are hit] with several inches of rain, a catastrophe could happen, especially to the people living in downstream communities and along the path of the Cagayan de Oro River,” Raoul Geollegue, president of the Watershed Management Coalition (WMC), said during the third International River Summit here on Thursday.
When Sendong (international name: Washi) hit the region five years ago, the river overflowed, submerging the city and nearby Iligan villages with floodwater as high as 9.14 meters (30 feet), killing people and destroying crops and property. Environmentalists blamed deforestation and siltation for the tragedy.
Experts who spoke at the summit noted with alarm the diminishing forest cover in the upland areas of Northern Mindanao and along the path of major rivers.
Geollegue said the forest cover of the 137,933-hectare river basin that keeps the Cagayan de Oro River alive is now “scanty, inadequate and in bad shape,” citing a report from the Cagayan de Oro River Basin Management Council (CDORBMC).
Only 24 percent of the basin’s forest cover remains, way below the ideal forest cover of at least 40 percent .
“What the river basin needs, is massive reforestation in the denuded spots,” he said, as he urged local officials and the community to do their part.
The river basin sources its headwaters from the upper slopes of Mt. Kalatungan and Mt. Kitanglad and drains to the main stream of the Cagayan de Oro River. Improper cultivation and land use practices across the slopes and foothills of the mountains contributed to the denudation problem, the CDORBMC report said.
Geollegue said the national government, through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, must allocate enough funds to reforest the river basin.
Cagayan de Oro City Mayor Oscar Moreno said the tragedy brought about by Sendong tested the city’s resilience and resolve to rise from the devastation. He said Cagayan de Oro and its people rose from a difficult situation, “emerging stronger, building back better.”
Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, head of the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro, said everybody should work together to engage in disaster mitigation, adaptation and anticipation of calamities. —JIGGER JERUSALEM
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