Deforestation in Mindanao worsens flooding, local communities say

Reports of the most recent – and devastating – flooding in the southern Philippines highlighted the fact that most victims were caught unaware on the early Saturday morning of December 17th, just a week before Christmas, as torrential rains fell and hillsides cascaded into villages. Two weeks later, as the news cycle moves on with its voracious appetite, it’s tempting to chalk up the tragedy to an unfortunate, and unpredictable, act of God. And some reports have.

Half a million people have been displaced by recent flooding in Mindanao - many of them children. (Photo: UN.)

But there’s a deeper story here. And it’s one that local communities and environmental groups have been clamoring about for decades. Due to rampant deforestation – and the corruption that enables it – northern Mindanao’s denuded hillsides and swollen rivers have created dangerous circumstances for flooding and displacement. A 2009 University of the Philippines study warned that lowland communities are particularly at risk.

This week, the Philippines Senate said it would take up a probe into the cause of the flooding, but Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile expressed doubt that illegal logging was a factor, which doesn’t bode well for how serious the Senate’s committee on energy will take the investigation.

And don’t count out the influence of multinational corporations. The UP Study points to one section of the Upper Pulangi Watershed that was converted into 2,000 hectares of pineapple plantation owned by Del Monte Philippines. When I asked Francis Morales, with the northern Mindanao group Panalipdan about the site, he said the area used to be forest cover for the local communities.

Now, half a million people have been driven from their homes. During a visit to the affected area UN Humanitarian Coordinator Soe Nyunt-U compared the destruction to a tsunami.

Can this kind of destruction and suffering be prevented? It’s a question worth asking.

Francis Morales, of Panalipdan, and Lisa Ito, from the Center for Environmental Concerns, discuss deforestation and corruption in the Southern Philippines in an interview with me on Free Speech Radio News after the flooding.

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