From her home in a suburb of Manila, Rowena Jimenez cannot see the barren mountains surrounding the built-up city. But she feels the effects of deforestation every time her living room floods.
Slash-and-burn, illegal logging, open-pit mining and population-driven development have stripped the once-densely forested Philippines of much of its trees.
In Manila, home to more than 13 million people, low-lying areas are often flooded when storms lash the Sierra Madre mountain range, which lies east of the city and acts as a barrier against severe weather.
But without enough trees to absorb the rain, vast amounts of water flow off the hillsides and into waterways that flow into the metropolis, turning neighborhoods into disease-ridden swamps.
Jimenez, 49, has lost count of the number of times the Marikina River has burst its banks, flooding the ground floor of her family’s two-bedroom concrete home a few blocks from shore.
“There’s always a fear of it happening again,” said Jimenez, who lives with her husband, youngest daughter, sister, nephew and mother.
“Your heart sinks as you realize that the things you worked so hard to buy are about to be destroyed again.”
Jimenez blames environmental “abuse” upstream in the nearby Upper Marikina River Basin — a drainage basin that spans about 26,000 hectares (64,500 acres) in the southern foothills of the Sierra Madre.
According to a World Bank report, only 2.1 percent of the watershed was covered by dense “closed forest” in 2015.
Runoff from the mountains flows into the basin, which is vital in regulating the flow of water into Manila.
It was declared a “protected landscape” in 2011 by then-President Benigno Aquino under a law to ensure “biodiversity and sustainable development”.
That was two years after Typhoon Ketsana, known in the Philippines as Tropical Storm Ondoy, flooded 80 percent of the city and killed hundreds of people.
But by then, many of the trees in the catchment area had been cleared to make way for public roads, parking lots, private resorts, and residential areas.
Jimenez still shudders at the memory of the twenty-foot water that forced her family to huddle on the roof of their home.
“We didn’t save anything but ourselves,” she said.
The combination of drainage basin development and wetter storms driven by climate change have made flooding worse in Manila, said Rex Cruz, a watershed management expert at the University of the Philippines.
“The surface of the Marikina watershed has been altered so that it cannot hold much rainwater,” he said. This also leads to water scarcity in the dry season.
Cruz said the situation will worsen if “business as usual” prevails in the country, which is among the most vulnerable nations to the impacts of climate change.
Official data shows that the archipelago’s “closed forest area” – which has a total area of 30 million hectares – has fallen from 2.56 million hectares in 2003 to 1.93 million in 2010.
In 2020, it rose to 2.22 million hectares.
Corruption and sometimes violent conflicts over land ownership and use make it difficult to protect existing forests and reforest others.
Watchdog Global Witness ranks the Philippines as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for environmentalists, with 19 dead in 2021 and 270 dead in the previous decade.
The Masungi Georeserve Foundation has spent years trying to reforest about 3,000 hectares in the upper Marikina Basin, less than 30 kilometers from Manila.
But there is dispute over whether the land should be preserved or developed.
Some people want to use it for quarrying, burning wood for charcoal, building resorts, or growing crops.
The Bureau of Corrections plans to set up its headquarters there.
32-year-old Masungi forester Kuhkan Maas has been ill-treated and even shot for trying to protect the land where he has planted thousands of trees over the past decade.
He refuses to be intimidated.
“My dream is to see all the trees we planted thrive and see the land that used to be barren grow into a lush forest,” said Maas, who still bears the scar, from the 2021 a bullet pierced his neck.
Without land-use policies and integrated environmental laws to regulate the competing use of resources, it’s difficult to develop sustainably, attorney Tony La Vina said, describing it as a “nasty problem.”
Manila resident Jimenez said her family’s home never flooded in the 1980s, as she recalls the Marikina River being “pristine” and surrounded by farms, trees and a handful of families.
But as more and more land was made available for the growing population, her home began to flood over the following decade.
Since then, Jimenez says, the family home has been flooded once or twice a year, sometimes more often.
The slightest drizzle causes her mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease, to panic.
“She’s packing things, putting them in a plastic bag and nagging us to start packing,” Jimenez said.
“It’s sad to know that the only memories she has left are of the rain and flooding.”
© 2023 AFP
Citation: Weather Storms, Deforestation: Manila Faces Worsening Floods (2023, February 22) Retrieved February 22, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-02-wetter-storms-deforestation-manila-worsening.html
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