Friday, January 9, 2015

Impacts of Disasters in Batuan, Bohol: A Cursory Study

by Alan S. Cajes
A view of Batuan, Bohol, Philippines from the Santo Nino Shrine

When I arrived in the town of Batuan, Bohol around two o’clock in the afternoon of December 29, 2014, heavy rains and strong winds have started to descend on a people whose last major encounter with flashflood and typhoon was in 1984. Batuan is my home town. Since three years ago, I make it a point to come home every Christmas break to feel at home. Each time I am in town, the rain would come almost every day.

But the rain on the day of my arrival was different. The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) issued a weather bulletin around eleven in the morning placing the rainfall from 7.5 millimeters (moderate) to 15 millimeters per hour (heavy) within the 300-kilometer diameter of a tropical depression[1]. This means that a heavy rainfall in the next ten hours is higher than the 100 millimeters average monthly rainfall in Bohol[2]. It is like saying that more than a month’s rainfall could happen in just ten hours.

Shiphaus in Batuan
It did happen that night. Thus, PAGASA issued a warning informing residents in lowland and upland areas that they are vulnerable to flashfloods and landslides, and that ocean waves could be as high as four meters. So when my young friends from the Association of Young Boholanos in Metro Manila (AYBM) sent me a text message saying that they were going to Barangay Behind the Clouds in Batuan to give relief goods to earthquake victims, I checked with them if they would push through with the activity given the prevailing weather condition. Besides, I had to make sure that whatever snacks we could prepare for them at the Shiphaus[3] in Batuan would not be wasted. The AYBM assistance was completed as planned. We played host to the volunteers while Seniang made a landfall somewhere in Bohol.

Rice fields that Seniang destroyed. These rice fields
are favorite sites of  some migratory birds.
By the time I went home around six o’clock in the evening, PAGASA had already upgraded Seniang from a tropical depression to a tropical storm[4]. Seniang’s maximum sustained winds is 65 kilometers per hour near the center. Her gustiness is up to 80 kilometers per hour. Around that time, Seniang’s center was located about 140 kilometers East Southeast of Tagbilaran City. PAGASA placed nine provinces, including Bohol, under typhoon signal number two with winds of up to 100 kilometers per hour in the next twenty-four hours[5]. After dinner, I asked my mother and brother to stay at the Shiphaus. I decided to stay at home to check on the house during the typhoon.

Landslide near Makapiko River.
Foto below shows the washed out bridge.
Around eight o’clock in the evening, there was total darkness. Heavy drops of rain threatened to bore holes through our tin roof. Strong winds wanted to clear everything along its path. While nature unleashed her wrath, I could only imagine the possible scenarios and how I might respond. The worst thing that could happen is that the wind would blow our roof away, the rain would drench everything that remains, and our hillside would cover the rest with stone and mud. While imagining such grim situation, sleep did not come and visit me until everything seemed better. 

Around midnight, my brother sent me a text message saying that the national highway near our house is not passable and that many of our neighbors have to hurriedly leave their houses. With water rising immediately up to one meter, not a few of the houses had mud and dirt all over the place the morning after.

Smaller springs like this provide year round freshwater supply
to rice fields and households before the 2013 earthquake.
Now, the springs would dry up a few days after a rainy day.
On January 1 and 3, I found time, with the help of my brother and a friend who is teaching at a local high school, to visit my grandfather’s house in Barangay Cantigdas, the Makapiko Bridge in Barangay Rizal, and the barangays along the way. Some of the findings are instructive, at least to me, on how communities that are affected by disasters could enhance their resiliency.

In barangays Cantigdas, Poblacion Vieja, Poblacion Norte, Janlud, Cambacay, Rosariohan and Rizal, some of the rice fields, especially those that are newly planted, are either partially or almost completely damaged. The farmers say that they never experienced such flashflood since 1984 when Nitang, one of the deadliest typhoons, hit the Philippines. At the boundary of the towns of Batuan and Catigbian, the raging waters of Makapiko River that rose up to three meters around two o’clock in the morning of December 30 washed out the Makapiko Bridge. No wonder Loboc town was flooded and severely damaged.

Loboc River after the typhoon. Foto courtesy of Facebook.
Seniang also caused rocks to fall and completely render the road to Makapiko Bridge unpassable. What made this risk complicated is the obvious interplay between natural and human-induced hazards. The natural hazards are earthquake, heavy rainfall and landslide. The human induced hazard is quarrying. Taken together, these hazards are a good recipe for disaster particularly in upland areas. In addition, the risk of falling rocks remains even in the absence of the natural hazards because of the way quarrying is done.


Earthquake Impacts

Water from Ubujan Spring is almost one foot lower compared
to the average water level before the 2013 earthquake.
Foto taken while some ricefileds are still under water.
The ocular visit also revealed the negative impacts of the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that struck Bohol and other provinces in 2013. The reports on deaths, injuries and damages have been extensively reported elsewhere. What I did not know is that the volume of water coming from the Ubujan Spring, and at least two other nearby springs, near Cambacay, Batuan was reduced by more than half its capacity after the earthquake. This caused some of the rice fields to dry up. Interviews with farmers showed that the spring provides natural irrigation to about sixty hectares of rice fields. With reduced water flow, an estimated 30 hectares of farm land would be unsuitable for rice farming. The consequence would be reduced farm yield and income. Thus, farmers have to look for suitable crops to plant.



Farms affected by decreased water flow from Ubjuan Spring.
This foto was taken while other rice fields are still flooded.
This cursory study shows that indeed Batuan, which is situated within the Loboc Watershed, is highly vulnerable to natural and human-induced hazards. The findings would hopefully encourage other researchers or local decision makers to conduct a comprehensive environment and natural resources, as well as vulnerability assessment of their respective territorial jurisdictions. Field data as of 2012 showed that only the town of Jagna (only one out of 47 municipalities and one city) had a functional disaster risk reduction and management program. The clear benefits that might be gained from such an exercise are validated data on the quality of environment and natural resources, hazards and risks, coping mechanisms and other inputs from the residents, practical suggestions on disaster risk reduction and management, strategies on local climate change adaptation, and citizens’ participation in problems and solutions analysis.


Indeed, safety is the price of vigilance when disaster strikes, but when those who are supposed to protect and save lives and property do not perform their job, everybody, especially the poor, is at the mercy of nature’s fury.





[1] See http://pagasa.dost.gov.ph/index.php/bulletin-archive/206-seniang-2014-bulletin/1907-8
[2] See http://www.weather-and-climate.com/average-monthly-precipitation-Rainfall,bohol,Philippines
[3] Shiphaus is owned by the Dumapias family – my tito, tita and first degree cousins. It is a house that is shaped and designed like a ship. It is one of the local tourist attractions.
[4] See http://pagasa.dost.gov.ph/index.php/international-shipping-archive/207-seniang-2014-shipping/1908-8-a
[5] See 

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