Technology, disaster, and conservation

By Jason A. Baguia |May 19,2017 - 09:25 PM


I do not know if I will find the time to read the writing about someone’s family’s slave that has apparently become an internet sensation. But a quote from the story’s author posted by a colleague interests me.

Our country, the author says, is a collection of rocks in the ocean that from time to time fall under, only to resurface so that life may go on.

This view takes me back to the nineties when several storms including Super Typhoon Ruping made landfall in Cebu.

Ruping made headlines for bringing the Cebuano archipelago to a standstill and for infamously rocking a ship such that it hit and inflicted damage on what was then the only Mactan bridge.

My recollection of immediate experiences of storms has become patchy such that I can no longer match episodes to particular storms. But in one of them, we had to flee our low-lying house because the floodwaters entered.

I was not yet 10 and knew nothing of the swimming ability of canines, so I scooped up our mongrel, Chucky in my arms, afraid that he would drown in the waist-deep waters. I brought him safe – and perhaps annoyed – to a neighbor’s house where my family took shelter until the storm passed.

There were other cyclones that brought with them the usual abnormalities like power and water shortages and suspended classes.

To our household, the worst that happened was the collapse of a concrete fence that fortunately left no one injured. Vying for the most painful storm aftermath was the loss to floods of thousands of photographs that mother kept in albums beneath our living room table.

Others have had it worse.

I write from the province of Iloilo where memories are still fresh of the havoc that Super Typhoon Yolanda of 2013 and other typhoons wreaked.

Local governments here, however, are somehow converting their traumatic history with natural disasters, aided by University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu researchers.

Over the last few years, scientists led by professors Jonnifer Sinogaya and Judith Silapan of UP Cebu’s College of Science have been working with light detection and ranging (lidar), a remote sensing technology to generate maps that will help communities cope with nature’s wrath and manage their natural resources.

On May 18 and 19, representatives from local governments across the Western Visayas region that include Aklan, Antique, Capiz, Guimaras, Iloilo, and Negros Occidental provinces gathered at the UP Visayas auditorium in Iloilo City to receive and be familiar with the maps.

These maps can be used in several contexts, for instance in the face of floods.

Combining official data and lidar, the UP Cebu researchers concluded that Victorias City, Negros Occidental is generally exposed to flooding, but that one barangay is the most sensitive to it.

This barangay has poor access to roads and bridges and has the largest number households without any alternative to farming as income source.

In light of such evidence, it becomes imperative for the local government concerned to make alternative job opportunities available for residents of the said barangay and to increase the rehabilitation aid that is given to them.

Conservation is another arena in which the lidar-generated maps are useful. The UP Cebu research team also used data and lidar to help determine which areas in Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental are most suitable for the planting of mangroves.

Now, knowing which part of the city is the best habitat for mangroves is as easy as checking the red (suitable) and green (unsuitable) areas on a map.

The red portions of the map indicate places where propagules should not be planted because they are close to fish corrals and ponds that are inimical to mangrove development.

Lidar is also applicable in mapping locations of renewable energy sources across the country. Remote sensing has been used by the lidar research team to draw a better picture of the Philippines’ potential sources of hydroelectric, solar, and wind power.

Western Visayas, with its vast tracts of farmland, has been shown to have abundant deposits of biomass from coconut residues and rice husks.

The lidar mapping projects, said professor Sinogaya, were worth P90 million sourced from the Department of Science and Technology and more than 26,000 hours of work. The distribution of the maps, he said, symbolized the responsibility of recipients to use them to build disaster resiliency in their constituencies.

“May these maps,” he said, “save lives — a hundred, a thousand including our own.”

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