Lessons from Guinsaugon

Purple S. Romero
A national land use code can help prevent tragedies such as the one that visited the village of Guinsaugon in 2006

(Editor’s Note: This story is first published by Newsbreak.)

MANILA, Philippines – Maria Temate, 56, lost her four grandchildren in the 2006 landslide that occurred in Brgy. Guinsaugon, St. Bernard, Southern Leyte. Mud covered 300 hectares of the barangay in minutes, killing 1,500 people. Geologists said the rocks of the mountain had been made fragile by the Philippine fault line, which passes Leyte.

Five years after, Temate still can’t leave Guinsaugon permanently. She and four other families stayed here to continue farming, though she said that they also go home to Barangay Magbagacay, also called the New Guinsaugon. This is the relocation site for the 200 survivors of the tragedy.

Temate said she’s not afraid of another landslide, believing that God won’t do it to them twice. “Ang Diyos, ‘pag nagbigay ng lindol, isang beses lang,” she said in the local dialect.

Beauty Cabacungan, the barangay captain of New Guinsaugon, said that it’s hard for her to dissuade some people like Temate from going back to what is practically the grave site of their loved ones. “Maganda po kasi talaga ang lupa doon,” she said.

After the tragedy, the survivors underwent training on participatory land-use development plan, which helped them identify what resources are available to them and what hazards they face.

The training was organized by the German non-government organization Deutsche Gesellschaft fr Internationale Zusammenarbeit or GIZ.

From the said plan, they realized two things: the good news is, their new area is not vulnerable to landslides and floods. The bad news, however, is that it’s not fit for farming, their main source of income. Hence, some survivors would rather take a risk and go back to Old Guinsaugon.

Cabacungan said that for others who would rather stay in the relocation site, they take on construction jobs to feed their families. She added that since they cannot farm in their new home, “we need training for livelihood activities.”

Preventing tragedies

Tragedies such as the one that devastated the village of Guinsaugon are not unique in the unique in the Philippines, known as one of the most hazard prone countries in the world.

For areas prone to disasters, the Guinsaugon case shows there are clearly no easy solutions to the risk posed by natural hazards.

Still, proponents of national land use code say that having such a policy would help prevent similar tragedies because the code mandates the incorporation of geohazard maps in the development of land use plans in local government units.

These maps would identify the areas prone to different hazards and would consequently guide officials and the local land use planning council on determining what areas are fit for production, where agricultural development falls, protection, settlements and infrastructure development. – Rappler.com