Surging rainwater coming from higher ground and mudslides

Twin catastrophes

"Cagayan de Oro and Iligan City shown in relation to Palawan" retirednoway

Cagayan de Oro and Iligan City shown in relation to Palawan

Surging rainwater coming from higher ground and mudslides–these are what doomed Cagayan de Oro and Iligan City last month. These two neighbors sit in the lowlands between the mountains and the sea. When tropical cyclone Sendong (international name: Washi) passed through Mindanao, these cities were its biggest casualties.

The cause–clear in hindsight–is the eroded land that can no longer safely retain the volume and weight of torrential downpours.

Here’s a post I wrote about the ferocity of torrential downpours.

The trees in the mountains that overlook these two cities were harvested. Without trees to serve as pillars for the mountain, vast amounts of soil were washed out. Where mountain soil may have been 30 centimeters (12 inches), after the trees were cut, water and wind erosion may have reduced that soil to less than five centimeters (2 inches) thick. Everything else was washed or blown away. Erosion is the primary reason for the tremendous decrease in retention (water-holding) capacity.

It took decades before the consequences of excessive deforestation were felt. And what consequences they were!

When were the forests of Mindanao harvested, in the 1970s, 1980s?

When disaster struck, it happened with frightening speed, as the volume of water that was dumped on the mountains by typhoon Sendong surged and swept down the land and into the sea.

“Sendong” world’s deadliest storm for 2011

by Jojo Malig, abs-cbnNEWS.com
Posted at 12/20/2011 12:52 AM | Updated as of 12/20/2011 10:10 AM

Deaths reach 957, hundreds still missing

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) – Tropical storm “Sendong” (international name Washi) is the world’s deadliest storm this year, latest data shows.

The storm, which struck Northern Mindanao, the Visayas, and Palawan over the weekend, has now killed at least 957 people, the country’s disaster management chief said Tuesday morning.

National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) Director Benito Ramos also said they have lost count of the number of people who have gone missing following the flashfloods spawned by the storm.

[For comparison] American meteorologist Dr. Jeff Masters, citing data from insurance broker AON Benfield, said 902 people died during a storm in Brazil in January. Meanwhile, 657 people died during the massive floods in Thailand from June to November.

Masters, who explained how the tragedy happened, said Sendong carried an unusual amount of rainwater, which came from a large stream of tropical moisture over the Pacific Ocean.

“Aiding the heavy rains were sea surface temperatures that were nearly 1 degree Celsius above average off the east coast of Mindanao, one of the top five warmest values on record,” he said in a Weather Underground report.

A US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) report December 15, a day before the storm struck, said Sendong was carrying as much as 50 millimeters of rainwater, which is almost the same amount that storm Ondoy was bringing in 2009.

"Typhoon Sendong's track" retirednoway

Typhoon Sendong's track

“Washi hit a portion of the Philippines that does not see tropical storms and typhoons very often. Mindanao is thus hit only about once every twelve years by a significant tropical storm or typhoon,” Masters added.

[And similarly for Palawan. Most typhoons (or tropical storms or tropical cyclones, which I’m all using as synonyms) skirt the eastern boundary of the Philippines before cutting across northern Luzon. Because Palawan is the western boundary, most typhoons miss it. I asked a long-time resident who lives in Quezon, Palawan, dentist Doctor Grace Regalado of her memories about severe typhoons and she could only remember one–in the 1990s. Anyway, back to the article.]

“Since the rains fell on regions where the natural forest had been illegally logged or converted to pineapple plantations, the heavy rains were able to run off quickly on the relatively barren soils and create devastating flash floods. Since the storm hit in the middle of the night, and affected an unprepared population that had no flood warning system in place, the death toll was tragically high,” he said.

Ondoy–mentioned in the paragraph above right before the image of Sendong’s tracks–flooded MetroManila three years ago.

Ondoy’s flood worst in history (according to PAGASA)

By RIO ROSE RIBAYA
September 27, 2009, 11:45am

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services, Administration (PAGASA) said Saturday that the unexpected flood in Metro Manila was the worst one ever recorded in (Philippine) history. While Dr. Nathaniel Cruz, PAGASA director, said that yesterday’s flood was the worst in history, he added that the amount of rainfall dumped yesterday is expected to surpass the 1967 record and this month’s average.

The most striking thing I recall from stories told by survivors was how surprised they all were at how rapidly the floodwaters rose.

Disaster relief

The evening after people realized how catastrophic the devastation was, I accompanied my sister who donated bags to the relief effort. We went to Ateneo University along Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City simply because it was the most convenient place for her to go.

"Follow the sign" retirednoway

Follow the sign

"Some of the bags she donated" retirednoway

Some of the bags she donated

"Paperwork: donor information" retirednoway

Paperwork: donor information

"Paperwork: donated items information" retirednoway

Paperwork: donated items information

"Follow the signs. (ASOG stands for the building that was being used to collect and organize the donations.)" retirednoway

Follow the signs. (ASOG refers to the building that was being used to collect and organize the donations.)

"Volunteers manning the temporary disaster relief office at ASOG" retirednoway

Volunteers manning the temporary disaster relief office at ASOG

"Volunteers sorting, packing, and labeling donated material" retirednoway

Volunteers sorting, packing, and labeling donated material

Lessons learned

Filipinos today seem to be more aware of the importance of the environment. Hopefully, this awareness will expand and take root among rural Filipinos.

I live in Puerto Princesa (which is a city) but I still consider myself a rural Filipino.

I made that distinction because urban and rural are associated with city and country but Puerto Princesa City has a very rural feel to it. For me at least.

Last month’s twin disasters occurred in the “country,” which is the province in the case of the Philippines.

In the Philippines, political power and money are concentrated in Manila. Local governments are usually weak and their efforts often need to be supported by the local congressmen and congresswomen. That’s official power but there’s another kind.

People have their own kind of political power and in the case of the Filipino, the term “People Power” is so apt. It came about because Filipinos used it to topple, first, a dictator, and then, a corrupt and ineffective president.

The people who make up the majority of Palawenos (resident of Palawan) are aware of the importance of their environment. That much is obvious and a relief to me. However, I anticipate they will need to be prodded in order to convert that awareness into action.

Is that the way it will be? Time will tell.

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9 responses to “Surging rainwater coming from higher ground and mudslides

  1. yes that’s true about what u said , the philipines must work hard from this moment and learn from past problems of flooding.. thanks for sharing i loved reading ur post…god bless

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  3. Hello. This is Sr. Felma.Remember me?

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  4. “Another feature of the Philippine climate is one that every citizen of the country knows only too well: The Philippines lies at the center of the primary typhoon track in Asia. As many as 33 typhoons can strike the archipelago in a single year, with 15 to 25 being typical. These storms bring winds powerful enough to topple high-tension power lines and tear bamboo huts to shreds, and can drop half-a-meter of rain or more in a day.

    When such heavy rain falls on rain forest, the leaves of the trees break its fall so that it lands softly on the ground, which is usually loosely covered with leaves and small plants. In high-elevation mossy forest, where rainfall is still heavier and the terrain much steeper, the cool temperatures allow the accumulation of thick layers of partially decomposed leaves, branches, and moss which function as a huge sponge. A meter of rainfall in a day in mossy forest produces remarkably little flooding; most of the moisture simply disappears into the natural sponge of humus and soil, to be gradually released from springs in the lowlands.”

    Source: http://archive.fieldmuseum.org/vanishing_treasures/Origins_4.htm

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  5. “Many giant trees of the lowland rain forest are members of the hardwood family called dipterocarps, known to Filipinos by such names as apitong, bagtikan, lauan, tangile, guijo, and yakal. The crowns of these trees extend 30 to 50 meters high, and their trunks may reach almost two meters in diameter. Reinforced with buttresses that flare out from the base of the tree, the trunk grows straight and is 25 to 30 meters long, characteristics that make these trees especially desirable as timber. Dipterocarps once constituted 80 percent of the country’s timber resources and provided the bulk of what is sold on the market as “Philippine mahogany.” Although best used for fine furniture these woods have also been used for railroad ties, utility poles, bridges and wharfs, pulp, paper, and plywood. One species (Dipterocarpus grandiflorus), known as apitong in the Tagalog language and agagkag in Visayan, yields and oily resin, called balaw, which is used in lamp oil, varnish, and caulking compounds.

    Forty-five species of dipterocarps are indigenous to the Philippines, of which nearly half are found nowhere else. The current distribution of these trees in the Philippines resulted from the configuration of land during the last glacial period, with many dipterocarp species confined to a single Ice-Age island. Even though the fruits of dipterocarps have wing-like appendages that produce a parachute-like motion when they fall, they are too heavy to be carried far from the parent tree; many land directly under the tree, leading to overcrowding and forcing them to compete for space. The seeds cannot survive for long periods at sea. These limitations on the dispersal of the seeds isolated populations &led to the evolution of many new species.

    Philippine old-growth dipterocarp forests have almost entirely disappeared. Several species once fairly common in primary lowland forests in many parts of the country have been decimated by logging and slash-and-burn agriculture. These trees generally take at least 40 years to produce their first seeds, and 100 years to reach timber size. Ever-increasing demand and the nearly exhausted supply have made logging companies even more zealous to exploit the last remnants of forests on Palawan, Mindano, and Luzon.”

    Source: http://archive.fieldmuseum.org/vanishing_treasures/V_Apitong.htm

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  6. “When the first humans arrived in the Philippines from adjacent Asia many thousands of years ago, they found an archipelago that was remarkably rich in natural resources. The seas were inhabited by the earth’s most diverse marine communities on earth, providing an abundant source of food throughout the year. The land was covered almost entirely by rain forest that provided them with meat from wildlife, building materials, and seemingly everlasting supplies of clear, cool water.

    Those natural resources have been squandered, so badly damaged by over-use, mismanagement, and greed that recovery is uncertain, and collapse seems to be a real possibility. The nation now faces stark alternatives: a decline from the biologically richest place on earth to environmental devastation, or recovery from the current brush with disaster to a point of stability. To understand the origin of this dramatic and terrible situation, we must begin with history, but must end with societal and personal choice.

    The moist tropical climate resulted in luxuriant rain forest that once covered at least 95 percent of the Philippines, harboring one of the highest densities of unique species anywhere on the earth. Lake Balinsasayo (above) is one of the most beautiful places on Negros Island.

    Few countries in the world were originally more thoroughly covered by rain forest than the Philippines. Brazil has extensive Savannah and brush; Indonesia has many dry islands; Kenya and Tanzania have only small patches of rain forest. A few hundred years ago, at least 95 percent of the Philippines was covered by rain forest; only a few patches of open woodland and seasonal forest, mostly on Luzon, broke the expanse of moist, verdant land.

    By the time the Spanish arrived in the Philippines in the 16th century, scattered coastal areas had been cleared for agriculture and villages. The only domestic grazer was the water buffalo, and pastureland was very limited. Some forest had been cleared in the interior as well—particularly the terraced rice lands of the Central Cordillera of northern Luzon—but most coastal areas and the richest of the lowlands remained completely forested, broken only by the occasional cultivated clearings. By 1600, the human population of the Philippines probably numbered about 500,000, and old-growth rain forest over 90 percent of the land, home to thousands of plant and animal species interacting in the web of life that sustained the human population.

    At the end of more than 300 years of Spanish colonial rule, rain forest still covered about 70 percent of the Philippines. Some islands had been heavily deforested, while others remained nearly untouched. Cebu was so badly deforested that ornithologists visiting the island in the 1890s reported that they could find no old-growth forest, and the neighboring islands of Bohol and Panay had less than half of their original forest. Although the fertile lowland plains of Luzon had largely been cleared, much of the highland rain forest remained intact. Mindoro’s rain forest was protected by an especially virulent strain of malaria, Palawan’s by its isolation, and Mindanao’s was largely left untouched because of the aggressive independence of the Moro people. The plant and animal communities retained their integrity, readily able to provide resources to human populations in all but a few places.

    In 1992, the date of the most recent forest survey, old-growth rain forest had declined to a shocking 8.6 percent. In late 1997 that percentage has probably dropped to seven percent, and perhaps further still. The extent of rain-forest destruction in the Philippines may represent another “first”: In addition to probably having the highest density of both unique and endangered species in the world, its decline in old-growth forest from 70 percent to seven percent in less than a century is probably the most rapid and severe in the world. This destruction is a primary reason the Philippines is ranked as having the most severely endangered mammal and bird faunas in the world. The degradation is also responsible for the increasing floods and droughts in the country, as well as massive erosion, coral reef siltation, and groundwater depletion.”

    Source: http://archive.fieldmuseum.org/vanishing_treasures/Deforestation_1.htm

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