Who’s afraid of floods in Leyte?

Jesus F. Llanto
Four towns have a common warning system that can predict when floods will come, and a response plan that minimizes disasters in the communities

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

PALO, Philippines—The province of Leyte is no stranger to damages caused by landslides and floods. In 1991, at least 4,000 people were killed by flash floods in Ormoc City. Its neighbor, Southern Leyte, was the site of the 2006 landslide that buried communities and killed at least 1,000 people.

The province itself suffers from floods when Binahaan River, the 55-kilometer waterway that passes through four of its municipalities, overflows. Whenever the water level in the Binahaan River goes up, it threatens the potable water supply of Tacloban City and six other towns, affects 39,000 residents in 130 barangays, and submerges 6,300 hectares of farmland.

The flooding can have a huge impact on the local economy and livelihood since 53% of income of the province comes from agricultural crops.

Leyte, however, refused to wallow in devastation. A year after the disaster in its neighboring province, four of its municipalities designed a community-based flood management program that aimed to reduce the damage caused by floods and landslide.

In March 2007, the municipalities of Palo, Tanauan, Dagami, and Pastrana entered into an agreement with the provincial government, the local water district, the Office of Civil Defense, and the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical Astronomical Services Administration to establish the Binahaan River Local Flood Early Warning System (BRLFEWS).

The BRLFEWS, which was funded by the German Technical Cooperation-Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ), gives out early warnings to communities vulnerable to floods, thus reduces potential damage.

Under this project, rain gauges and water level sensors that transmit data to an operations center in Palo town were installed in strategic locations. The operations center then sends the warnings to the municipal operations center, which disseminates the signals to the barangays and communities.

“We receive information every 10 minutes whenever there is an increase in water level,” said Paul Mooney, chief of the operations center.

Raul Cayaco, chief of San Joaquin village, said that even if there is no rain, they monitor the water level twice a day. During rainy seasons, they monitor the water level every two hours. Data from their monitoring are recorded at the operations center.

“We can predict when the flood will strike and the people have time to prepare,” Mooney said, adding that the province recorded no casualty during flooding cause by Typhoon Mina in November 2007 and the heavy rains in December that same year and in January 2008.

Mooney said they used two methods in disseminating their warnings: through UHF radio and through mobile phones. However, he said, they prefer using the UHF radio since there are intermittent signal losses for cellular phones whenever typhoon strikes.

The BRLFEWS also devised a flood warning response system with three levels: alert level 1 for standby, level 2 for preparation, and level 3 for evacuation. Municipal-level drills are also conducted to increase awareness among the residents.

“We already translated [the warning system] into their own language so they can understand easily [its] meaning,” Mooney said.

The early warning system in Binahaan River is now replicated in four other watershed areas in Leyte. There are also plans to adopt the same system in Camarines Sur and Catanduanes, two other typhoon-prone provinces in the Bicol region.

Walter Selzer, adviser of the GTZ environment and rural development program, said that similar projects should be undertaken to minimize the effects of disasters on communities “This is the kind of project that we want to upscale on a national level.” – Rappler.com