From her home in the suburbs of Manila, Rowena Jimenez cannot see the bare mountains surrounding the built-up city. But she feels the impact of deforestation every time her living room is flooded.
Slash and burn farming, illegal logging, open pit mining and development fueled by population growth have stripped the densely forested Philippines of many of its trees.
In Manila, home to more than 13 million people, low-lying areas are often flooded when storms hit the Sierra Madre mountain range, which lies east of the city and acts as a barrier to severe weather.
But without enough trees to help absorb the rain, huge volumes of water run off the slopes and into waterways that flow into the city, turning neighborhoods into disease-ridden slums.
Jimenez, 49, lost count of the number of times the Marikina river broke its banks and flooded the ground floor of her family’s two-bedroom concrete house, a few blocks from the water’s edge.
“There is always a fear that it will happen again,” said Jimenez, who lives with her husband, youngest daughter, sister, nephew and mother.
“Your heart sinks as you realize that the things you’ve worked so hard to buy will be destroyed again.”
Jimenez blames environmental “abuses” upstream in the nearby Upper Marina Basin – a watershed that encompasses about 26,000 hectares (64,500 acres) in the southern foothills of the Sierra Madre.
Only 2.1 percent of the watershed was covered by dense “closed forest” in 2015, according to a World Bank report.
Runoff from the mountains is channeled into the basin, which is critical in regulating the flow of water into Manila.
Benigno Aquino, then president, declared a “protected landscape” in 2011, under a law that aims to ensure “biological diversity and sustainable development”.
That’s two years after Typhoon Ketsana, known as Tropical Storm Ondoy in the Philippines, submerged 80 percent of the city and killed hundreds of people.
But by then, many of the trees in the catchment had been cleared to make way for public roads, parking lots, private resorts and residential subdivisions.
Jimenez still remembers that the water is 23 feet (seven meters) high reaching and forcing her family to get stuck together on the roof of the house.
“We didn’t save anything but ourselves,” she said.
Watershed development and wetter storms caused by climate change have worsened flooding in Manila, said Rex Cruz, a watershed management expert at the University of the Philippines.
“The surface of the Marikina watershed has been modified into something that cannot absorb much rainwater,” he said. This also results in a shortage of water in the dry season.
Cruz said the situation will worsen if “business as usual prevails” in the country, which is ranked among the most vulnerable nations to the impacts of climate change.
Official data shows “closed forest” coverage in the archipelago—which has a total land area of 30 million hectares—has decreased from 2.56 million hectares in 2003 to 1.93 million in 2010.
It increased to 2.22 million hectares in 2020.
Corruption and sometimes violent conflict over land ownership and use make it difficult to protect existing forests and replant others.
Watchdog Global Witness ranks the Philippines as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for environmentalists, with 19 killings in 2021 and 270 killings in the previous decade.
The Masungi Georeserve Foundation has spent years trying to reforest about 3,000 hectares in the upper Marikina basin, which is less than 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Manila.
But there are disputes 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 Rights wants to put its headquarters there.
Masungi forest supervisor Kuhkan Maas, 32, was abused and even shot for trying to protect the land, where he had planted thousands of trees over the past decade.
He refuses to be intimidated.
“My dream is to see all the trees we planted flourish and to see the once barren land become a lush forest,” said Maas, still scarred from where a bullet hit his neck in 2021.
Without an integrated land use policy and environmental laws to control the competing uses of resources, it was difficult to develop sustainably, said lawyer Tony La Vina, describing it as a “wicked problem”.
Jimenez, a Manila resident, said her family’s house was not flooded in the 1980s when she recalls that the Marikina river was “pristine” surrounded by farms, trees and a handful of families.
But as more and more land was developed for the growing population, their home began to flood in the following decade.
Since then, Jimenez said the family home has flooded once or twice a year, sometimes more.
The slightest fog sends her mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease, into a panic.
“She’ll pack things, put them in a plastic bag and shame us into starting to pack,” Jimenez said.
“It’s sad to know that the only memory she has left is the rain and the floods.”
© 2023 AFP
Quote: Wetter storms, deforestation: Floods worsen in Manila (2023, February 22) retrieved on February 22, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-02-wetter-storms-deforestation-manila- worsening.html
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