Preparing for the next flood

Preparing for the next flood

The first tropical cyclone to hit the country this year is expected this weekend. Weather forecasters say Monday will be rainy even in Metro Manila as Tropical Storm Auring moves across the southern and central Philippines.

Auring should provide an early reminder about disaster preparedness, especially in mitigating flooding that devastated many areas in Cagayan in November last year. Last Thursday, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council approved the creation of permanent committees that will focus on dam safety and operations.

A technical working group formed in the aftermath of the Cagayan deluge reviewed protocols on dam management. The torrential flooding as Typhoon Ulysses battered the country was blamed by certain quarters on the release of water from Magat Dam combined with the heavy and prolonged rainfall that swelled the numerous tributaries of the Cagayan River, the country’s longest and largest, flooding the valley and destroying large tracts of farmlands.

Magat Dam officials have denied accusations from Cagayan residents of failure to issue a timely alert about the release of water during heavy rainfall, insisting that warning protocols were followed. Considering the extent of the disaster, the public alert protocols clearly needed fine-tuning.

Apart from dam management, local officials, environment advocates and other stakeholders emphasized the need to prevent soil erosion in the surrounding mountains, through reforestation and a review of mining activities. Easement rules along the river are being studied for strict enforcement. An area along the river that narrows into a bottleneck, raising the risk of heavy flooding in the surrounding communities, needs widening. A local official has launched an initiative to develop “green walls” near the riverbanks to minimize the flooding of nearby communities.

Over 20 people died mostly from flooding during the onslaught of Ulysses in Cagayan Valley. There will likely be more deaths, as people who depend on the river and the farms in the valley risk disaster and stay put in their homes. The best time to complete the interventions that can mitigate disaster is during the dry months. By now those interventions must be underway.