Flooding in Cagayan de Oro

Posted on January 12, 2009


By BenCyrus G. Ellorin/ Jan. 7, 2008

Waiting to happen

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY – Happy new year can hardly be said of the tens of thousands of people who would have started their Saturday morning January 3, 2009 trying to squeeze some more holiday time and guzzle up on some energy for the work waiting on the 5th of January.

I was in Bukidnon for the New Year Holidays when breaking news came on national TV about the flashfloods in Cagayan de Oro City due to the overflow of the Cagayan de Oro River.

The news indicate more than 5,000 households were displaced, alongside video footages of debris and two persons being carried away by the rampaging waters near the Ysalina Bridge, by the City Hall, with people helplessly watching by.

Yes this is the Cagayan de Oro River that has put the City of Golden Friendship in the country’s eco-tourism map.

Way back then, in the aftermath of the Ormoc Tragedy, environmentalists have been warning that because of the insane logging and land use conversation in the Cagayan de Oro and Lanao Watershed, catastrophic floods may hit the city, as the absorptive capacity of the Cagayan de Oro Watershed is reduced due to forest denudation and soil run-off from these denuded landscape make its way to the riverbeds, reducing the carrying capacity of the river.

One peculiar characteristic of the Cagayan de Oro River is that it snakes through at the heart of the City of Golden Friendship, from the hinterland barangays of Besigan, Tignapoloan, Dansolihon, Mambuaya, Bayanga, Lumbia, Indahag,to sub-urban and urban baraganys of Balulang, Macasandig, the Burgos St barangays, Carmen, Consolacion, Kauswagan, Puntod, Macabalan and Bonbon. This spans about 90 kilometers.

Downstream, on the eastern riverbank downstream of the Cagayan de Oro River is the poblacion (barangays 1-40) and populated suburbs like Macasandig, Nazareth, Consolacion, Puntod and Macabalan, on the otherside, Balulang, Carmen, Kauswagan and Bonbon.

This explains pretty much the havoc that Auring-induced rains brought to the city.

Cagayan de Oro River has more than a dozen tributaries, among the more important once are the Batang River some 2,500 meters in the Kalatungan Range in Lanao del Sur and flows to the Bulanog River in the Lanao-Talakag boundaries then going down to the jurisdiction of Cagayan de Oro City. Along the way, several tributaries from the Mt. Kitanglad Range, like the Tumalaong and Bubunawan Rivers, and the Monigue Creek from the mountains of Dansolihon, Mambuaya and Bayanga join the river. (Monigue Creek joins the river in the Macahambus Gorge and Cave Area)

I did some investigation on how the water accumulated so huge and so fast that fateful January 3 of 2009. I was told that steady rainfall in the uplands from news years day, up in the Talakag (southern side), and Besigan and Tignapoloan (northern side) areas had resulted in the build-up of the river elevation. Water had been unusually elevated in the Uguaban Bridge in the Dansolihon area.

Witnesses downstream also reveal that buhawi (cloud burst/ water spout) in the Baungon area, where the Tumalaong and Bubunawan Tributaries come from was observed early morning of January 3.
In fact, there were fears that the wooden bridge in the Tamalaong River in Lingating, Baungon would be carried by the rampaging waters as the water level almost overflowed the bridge. The water elevation in the Maasin Bridge that connects Brgy. Nicdao in Baungon to Bayanga, where the famous “pinoy” whitewater rafting starts and the “western” whitewater ends was also extremely high.

Just a few meters from the Maasin Bridge, joins another tributary, the Bubunawan River which was also draining enormous volume of water that fateful January 3.

The confluence of the high volume of water from the Kalatungan and Kitanglad Range explains the disaster, first stop the low lying areas of brgys Indahag, Balulang, Macasandig and Carmen. Macasandig, specifically Sitio Cala-cala seems to be the worst hit area. Then so on and so forth.

State of Calamity have been declared in 16 Oro Barangays, about 6,000 families displaced consisting of more than 22,000 poor individuals are now in evacuation centers.

In Baungon, Bukidnon, several barangays have been declared by the LGU as calamity areas, like Lingating, Danatag, Langaon, Nicdao. The hanging bridge in Langaon that used by school children to cross to brgy. Bayanga to go to school have been wiped out by the flood. The damage to agricultural crops have yet to be determined.

As they say, all is water under the bridge now. And there is little we can do when nature unleashes its fury.

I disagree, something ought to be done and something must be done to at least mitigate future disasters.

More than eight years after the last anti-logging barricade by our group, the Task Force Macajalar folded in the Manresa/ SM area, nobody seemed to remember the warnings and the call for a stop to logging and the implementation of a no non-sense reforestation measures in the watershed of Cagayan de Oro.

There were small efforts to reforest our watershed. Our group started a small indigenous forest species (dipterocarp) reforestation project in the Dansolihon, Bayanga areas, in the Monigue Creek, but when external funds went dry, it wasn’t anymore replicated. Many other small initiatives were done, but none big and sustainable enough was pursued. These big and sustainable project, naturally should have been done by the government, both the local and national government. But instead, our officials looked the other way, enjoyed the bright city lights and ignored the elephant in our backyard so to speak. Then came January 3, 2009.

Fortunately enough, Mother Nature did not spank us in the dark of the night, had it been otherwise, the loss of lives could be hard to even to imagine.

The cause of the disaster that visited us is not a result of short-term causes but a result of 20 – 30 years of abuse and neglect to our forest ecosystem, the watershed of Cagayan de Oro. It was a result of unabated legal and illegal logging and mindless land use conversion.

Now that the lightning had struck and have seen our elected officials quick to blame correctly illegal logging and mindless land use conversion (HELLLOOOOO!???), after making the sign of the cross, I am proposing four things:

1) Improve our disaster preparedness so that people will not helplessly get flushed from their homes to the Macajalar Bay when flashfloods come. Global Warming may bring more bad rains;

2) Conduct a comprehensive watershed physical characterization of the Cagayan de Oro River and its tributaries. We do have competent people and facilities to do this using GIS technology in generating natural hazard maps, watershed drainage maps, so on and forth of the Cagayan de Oro River and its tributaries;

3) Develop a warning mechanism so that people downstream the river are alerted whenever there are abnormal build-up of water upstream the river and its tributaries;

4) Implement a comprehensive reforestation and river rehabilitation program in the Cagayan de Oro River. Definitely, not the one they are doing now, which is mostly aesthetic in nature focusing only in the downstream. Those things they are doing in, what is that, CORDA??? will just be flushed to Macajalar Bay if nothing is done upstream. Inputs on how to go about this may come from number 2.

Till, then, let us help each other in alleviating the plight of the victims of the flood. Politicians, enjoy your time in the limelight helping the victims, but please do something sensible this time.

Kudos to all those kindhearted people who helped in the relief operations. To contribute its five-cent worth, the Cooperative Sector in the city have launched its relief drive too. The first batch of its aid was turned over to ABS-CBN’s Sagip Kapamilya Jan. 9, 2009. This is spearheaded by the City Cooperative Development Council headed by Dr. Anselmo Mercado, the Regional Cooperative Development Council of Atty. Isidro Q. Lico and the Cooperative Development Authority 10 headed by Dir. Orlando R. Ravanera.

(The writer is an environmentalist and community worker based in Cagayan de Oro. Comments can be sent to bency@journalist.com)

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