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More than just a dam story




ecf echoes from johnny dayang

VARIOUS groups that self-stylishly label themselves as “environmentalists” have col­lectively blamed the opening of dams as main culprit in the flooding of towns at the height of four successive typhoons that recently hit Luzon. To their credit, some local gov­ernment units have even em­braced their recommendation to file charges against the wa­ter reservoir operators.

Managing dams, though, is not that easy as some bright guys want us to believe; it goes beyond simple containment and release of accumulated waters. Their operation is based on physics, which is be­yond political diagnostics. In the case of Cagayan province, long before Magat Dam was built, the entire valley had al­ready undergone the same ex­perience a century ago. Still, the governor called the recent dam opening as “criminal in­competence.”

Dams are built to contain water and are deemed safe only up to a certain level. When its capacity is broken, the dam bursts and the out­come create untold havoc on communities. Minus a func­tional dam, those villages will remain submerged in floods for years each time the rains are dumped, whether courte­sy of the typhoon or by a huge downpour.

For obvious reason, dams are built on higher areas and wedged between mountains to ensure maximum collection of water and easy release of its content in case of overload. The structures are designed to absorb only up to a certain ca­pacity. To protect them from collapse due to structural stress, water is discharged based on scientific computa­tions.

Blaming dams for floods is not without basis. However, inundation of villages can be attributed mostly to man-made factors such as low-ly­ing location of communities, presence of tributaries that overflow with rain, defores­tation, siltation, obstruction of waterways, squatting and constriction of riverbeds, ac­cumulation of trash, and de­structive mining.

The rise of communities in plains that are susceptible to natural disasters has also long been a matter of popular debate. Public officials allow these areas to be transformed into organized settlements due to predictable political agenda. More sympathetic people mean more votes!

Creating safer communi­ties, regardless of category, must follow safety protocols and adhere to stringent rules that make signatories of set­tlement projects criminally guilty. Even private develop­ers should also be charged for failure to report distortions in the approval of their sub­division plans or taking for granted environmental issues affecting their investments.

In the interplay of safety, lo­cal government units must be cautious in allowing commu­nities to rise in areas where there are historical incidenc­es of flood. Water never rises upward without the help of a steaming sun, and rain indu­bitably goes where the level of an area is low.