The recent flooding of up to neck level in many parts of the city has prompted many analysts and engineers to offer up their answer to this disaster. They range from clogged up drainage due to too much garbage, too much rain, to a catch basin effect that included a high tide. But very few probably remember that this issue of increased flooding in the city can be traced as far back as around 1976 when the flooding issue was first raised.
On January 17 of this year, torrential rains due to a Low Pressure Area (LPA) and its meeting with the tail-end of a cold front left at least 7 dead in the city and province. In some parts of the city like Apovel in Patag, a few parts of Bulua, Lapasan, Gusa, Kauswagan, Cogon, and along the highway from Puregold down to Gaisano Mall, flood levels were from knee high to neck deep. The more than 60mm of rain that fell in a heavy downpour lasted more than 6 hours. Many had to be rescued when they were trapped in schools, offices, and stores. For the first time, a landslide occurred at the Pryce Plaza Hill, stranding hundreds of vehicles and commuters along the road.
Then on January 28, a cold front with an LPA brought torrential rains once again to the city. However, though the rains lasted almost the whole day, its rainfall amount was considerably less than what fell on the previous week. As a result, areas flooded were less in number and those areas that were flooded were only knee high. Still, same as the previous week, the city was issued a rainfall red alert. As far back as 1976, it was becoming noticeable that whenever heavy rains occurred in Cagayan de Oro, a few areas would experience minor flooding, especially in the Divisoria area, Lapasan, and in a few subdivisions. Also, people started to notice that during heavy rains the Cagayan River and some major creeks, the water would turn a muddy brown-red color. All this was unprecedented some five years back.
When then UM radio station DXMO and RMN radio station DXCC pressed for some investigative journalism, it was learned that the muddy water in the river and creeks were coming from soil erosion in the watersheds of Bukidnon due to illegal logging and massive deforestation even from companies granted licenses by the government. When reporters further pressed for answers about the city’s drainage and sewage system in coping with urbanization, then city mayor Concordio Diel and city hall responded by saying that there was no need to improve the city’s sewage or drainage system since no storms will ever hit Cagayan de Oro and that urbanization may take perhaps more than 20 years or beyond since CDO was not high on President Marcos’ priorities for city advancements.
By the 1980’s, whenever heavy rains would occur, it was noticeable that more and more of the city was becoming flooded. Though the floods would never reach knee height, but they were becoming more of a regular nuisance. Unfortunately, Marcos cronies in government decided to quiet the issue of regular flooding because more investors seemed to be pouring in the city. In fact, in less than 10 years, Cagayan de Oro was beginning to become highly urbanized. By the time of the Edsa Revolution and after, malls, new buildings, and residential subdivisions were sprouting like mushrooms after a rain, so to speak.
With the city becoming highly urbanized, unfortunately, the city’s drainage and sewage system did not improve or was not given proper management. Case in point, in the city’s center, particularly in Divisoria, the drainage and sewage system is still pre-1970’s fabricated, though it is underground. However, the continuous throwing of solid waste from restaurants and other businesses serve only to clog up the underground sewage, often resulting in a bad smell permeating from underground.
From the 1990’s up to the first decade of the 2000’s, the issuance of permits to build subdivisions in major residential areas in the city meant a boom in the city’s growth, but city hall officials responsible for inspecting drainage and sewage failed (or probably turned a blind eye) to inspect and spot the failures of such. As a result, many land and subdivision developers simply made small drainage systems within the subdivision but did not create exit drainage for the water that would be collected. Some developers simply detoured the drainage to exit into other residential areas, while some simply built “dead end” drainages. The result was either heavy flooding began to occur in the area beside the subdivision or flooding would occur inside the subdivision itself.
Many analysts often point to heavy deforestation and climate change when it comes to the heavy flooding that has continued unabated in Cagayan de Oro since the 1980’s. These also are points stressed whenever the heavy flooding during Storm “Sendong” in 2011 is brought up. But Sendong brought flash floods that started in the Bukidnon watersheds and tributaries, and most of the heavy flooding that occurred on that fateful December day happened beside the Cagayan River and other major creeks and tributaries. It should be noted that at no time did flooding occur in the Limketkai area during Sendong. In contrast, major flooding during the heavy rains of January 17 and 28 occurred in highly urbanized areas while areas along the river and creeks did not experience flooding.
According to the DPWH, they admit that poor urban planning that goes way back to the 1970’s is the major cause of flooding today in the city. The open sewages and drainage that were built in the 1990’s have proved inadequate since their being open invites indiscriminate garbage dumping. This can be seen, for instance, in the Bitan-ag Creek and along the western national highway leading up to Bulua. Both creeks overflow due to a combination of faulty constructions of ramped drainage and garbage clogging.
Not that blame needs to be pointed at here, but poor urban planning for the city’s drainage and sewage over the years will only fall on several administrations over the span of almost 40 years. But as the DPWH points out, the problem is still salvageable, but may cost the city in the amount of almost P2 billion and redesigning and reconstructing ALL of the city’s drainages.