The comment of Fr. Mercado in his facebook account made me smile. “Why call the weather project “Project Noah”? Are they not aware that the deluge which Noah and his family survived lasted for 40 days and 40 nights?” Yes! Are we expecting a flood that will last that long? Heaven forbid, because we are not even capable of providing enough emergency relief to the victims of the monsoon rains (Habagat). Fortunately, this part of the country was spared the disaster that struck Metro Manila early this month.
But we cannot just dissociate ourselves from the possibility that we can still fall victims to this calamity. Is the massive flooding of parts of Sultan Kudarat and Cotabato City a year or two ago the result of climate change? Partly yes. For us who have resided in this area all our life, we can recall the times when we experienced a great flood when the term “climate change” has not been coined yet. During the early 1960’s, those who resided in the “hi-school” area of Cotabato City had to take a banca at the Cathedral to get to the wet markets, or go shopping downtown.
Experts believed then that the winding Rio Grande River was the cause of the flood. So, a channel was built to straighten the path of water flowing down the river. Apparently, the cut-off channel solved the problem because for a long time, the city did not experience flooding as massive as the 1960 flood. However, the straight channel was unable to trap the silt that came from upriver (which was the function of the snaky river) filling up the Bucana area with silt. Presently, the silt deposit measures more than two meters at the mouth of the Rio Grande, preventing the free flow of water to the ocean during heavy rains. Added to that is the frequent changes in the course of water from the Simuay River, which until now has not been tamed.
The fast response to technical problems such as this probably saved the city from the destruction brought by another episode of flooding. However, there are already signs that we are a step behind in putting in place the necessary infrastructures for such an eventuality. The silting is already causing some degree of flooding, not to mention the inability of government to prevent the setting up of structures (like informal settlements/ or squatting) along the banks and in the middle of the river, and illegal logging upriver. In technical parlance, the city and its environs are in need of “urban planning”.
A few years back, the World Bank offered the city a long term loan for the establishment of a Comprehensive Sewerage System that will put up an effective storm drainage and sewage disposal. The loan amount plus interest was too big considering the income of the city. The payment, which will be shouldered by every resident, is prohibitive. Interviews with the residents showed that they still prioritize programs that can increase their income, rather than invest money in a non-productive project. (Iisipin ko muna ang ipasok sa tiyan ko, imbes na isipin kung saan pupunta ang lumalabas sa tiyan ko).
With the specter of climate change (the melting of the polar ice caps and the heavy downpour we are experiencing which will bring up the level of water in the seas and oceans), it would be a wise move to invest in some of the recommendations of the city master plan that involves urban planning. This will avoid using the scarce resources of the city for emergency relief, and of course, making us more prepared like Noah in surviving the flood.