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Priest blames deforestation for tragic Philippines floods

December 25, 2011 ·  By Paul Donovan, The Universe

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A priest who formerly worked in the area of the Philippines recently hit by devastating floods has blamed deforestation in the area for the disaster.

Tropical Storm Washi, which hit Mindanao island in the southern Philippines, caused flash floods and landslides which killed more than 650 people and drove tens of thousands from their homes.

The floods caused widespread damage in the cities of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro and in villages along the coast. Rivers burst their banks after more than 12 hours of continuous rain. Entire villages were swept into the sea.

Columban Father Sean McDonagh said that during the years he had worked there, he witnessed truck after truck carrying timber down from the mountain.

“The deforestation was literally criminal,” he said. “If the rainforest in the area had been left intact, even 12 hours of continuous rain would not cause this devastation. The rainforest canopy would stop the torrential rain from hitting the ground directly. Trees would also absorb the water. While you might have local floods, you would not have the disaster which happened the other night.”

He added: “Unfortunately, this will happen again and again unless there is a serious effort to reforest the uplands and that doesn’t seem to be on the cards.”

Fr McDonagh said he deplored the fact that the Philippines government was now willing to give licenses to mining companies to work in the uplands with open pit mining.

“Ten or 20 years from now, the disastrous floods will kill hundreds more almost every year and  contain mercury, cyanide and other heavy metals. This is the time to stop the madness of the plunder of the Philippines,” he said.

In the Philippines itself,  Columban Father Pat O’Donoghue said he saw water rush down from the mountains bringing trees and other debris, including uprooted coconut trees, crashing through the densely populated areas with tragic results.

“Many people simply had no chance,” the priest said. “The scenes of devastation speak for themselves. People living on the small islet ‘Isla de Oro’ at the mouth of Cagayan River were simply swept away as the whole islet disappeared. A similar fate overtook those on the islet at the mouth of Mandulog River in Iligan,” said Fr O’Donoghue.

CAFOD partner Carino Antequisa said: “The initial warning that the incoming storm might hit central and northern Mindanao came four days before. But for decades people have been used to watching storms only touching the very northern-most part of Mindanao, so people were only expecting prolonged rain.

“On the night itself there was a thunderous downpour, and then strong winds of 60–100 km per hour. Two rivers overflowed with mud, rocks and logs, sweeping communities – Christians, Muslims and indigenous peoples – along their banks towards the sea. The swollen rivers wrought havoc in Iligan City because roughly 30 per cent of the city’s population live within a half-kilometre of the banks of the two rivers.”

CAFOD has pledged £100,000 to help local partners provide housing and support to those who have lost their homes.

The Filipino chaplain in London is currently in the Philippines to report back on the kind of support the Catholic community in the UK could offer.

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