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Monday, February 26, 2024

Enduring another tragic landslide

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This is a dimension of disaster mitigation that will need serious rethinking and action with an all-sectoral approach to sustainably live and work with our environment

Extreme weather spawned by the onset of climate change created what weather scientists call a shear line and the trough of a low-pressure area that poured two weeks of heavy rains inundating the Mindanao region which triggered the massive landslide in Barangay Masara, Maco, Davao de Oro.

As of this writing, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council was still validating their count of 27 casualties, 35 injured, and 89 still missing.

It estimates about 1.2 million people were affected in Northern Mindanao, Davao, Soccsksargen, Caraga and Bangsamoro.

According to the U.P. Resiliency Institute—Nationwide Operational Assessment Hazards, the volume breached a rainfall threshold that occurs approximately every 75 years.

The continuous downpours caused the steep slopes of the landslide prone area to cascade down a bus terminal servicing the local communities, the barangay town hall and some homes.

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At the center of this calamity is Apex Mining as the landslide happened about a kilometer away from their mining operations. Many of the victims are Apex employees about to be bussed out of the terminal to their homes.

Whenever disaster strikes, and we have so many each year, the priority is to act swiftly to save as many lives as possible.

The daily news reports on the ongoing search and rescue operations that we see online or on TV cannot really capture the gravity of the situation on ground zero and how much courage and determination those rescuers must have to accomplish their mission.

It’s inspiring how Apex, the local government, and other government authorities are mobilizing their limited resources to charge into the dangerous conditions of the disaster site and the rallying of support from other organizations and mining companies to help in what can only be heroic efforts to find and help survivors and all affected inhabitants of Masara.

While we who are able should all pitch in and generously give what we can to help our fellow Filipinos in crisis, it is also productive to understand why this tragedy happened and learn how to prevent its re-occurrence.

According to the Davao de Oro PDRRMO during a recent interview, there is actually a no habitation policy in the area. In 2018, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of Region 11 recommended the relocation of Barangay Masara residents because the weak soil, it’s steeply sloped mountains, and that the Philippine fault actually runs directly under it.

Definitely a hazardous location by any standard.

The hazard map of NOAH also confirms that Barangay Masara and its vicinity are highly prone to rain induced landslides.

There were also big landslides there in 2007 and 2008 after which residents were actually relocated to a Gawad Kalinga Village but returned to Masara because that’s where their source of livelihood is.

So, what we have here is a situation wherein Apex Mining operations has fostered the economy of its host communities and provided livelihood for thousands of families that, for understandably practical reasons, decided to reside in Masara because of its proximity to their income source, despite the hazards.

As expected, anti-mining groups are quick to pin the blame on Apex Mining which to me is pretty amusing because the MGB, on the first day, already clarified the landslide happened outside of Apex’s mining operations and there was no order issued for the suspension of mining operations.

I could understand calls for an investigation, of course, but to quickly throw out allegations of irresponsible mining as quotable sound bites for media without substantiating evidence is so unproductive, given this is a crisis wherein human lives have been lost and urgent positive action is the appropriate and responsible thing to do.

Indeed, this is yet another natural disaster that we will survive with our resilient nature.

This is actually not an isolated situation.

The DENR, the MGB the UPRI-NOAH and our scientists have been pointing this out, every time there is a deadly flood and landslide.

This is a dimension of disaster mitigation that will need serious rethinking and action with an all-sectoral approach to sustainably live and work with our environment.

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