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Erosion and Development at
the Bicol River Basin
By Jose “Dong” Adolfo and
Perry M. Calara
Kaiba News and
(updated english version kan article na
“Kinakain ng Bikol River ang Lupa”)
Canaman, Camarines Sur—The Bicol River
is eating the riverbank and a foreign-funded government
project was not able to stop it.
A total of about 24 hectares of the
river bank have been lost due to erosion. In 1950s the width
of the cut-off channels in Canaman was 15 meters. Today the
width of the constructed channel is already about 70 meters
(see attached illustration).
click pix to zoom
Flooding solution in the 1950s.
In 1957, it was decided by experts from
the government that one of the solutions to the perennial
flooding in Camarines Sur and Albay was to construct cut-off
channels. During that time, they observed that it took weeks
before water, from continous and heavy rainfall, drained from
the Bicol River Basin to the San Miguel Bay. The bay is facing
the Pacific Ocean, east central of the Camarines provinces.
According to a supposed cut-off channel
beneficiary in Canaman, the government had a simple solution:
“if there is a relatively straight channel (compared to the
zigzagging Bicol River), then the rate of draining the flood
will be faster.” So, they constructed cut-off channels in
Canaman and Gainza in Camarines Sur.
This cut-off channel created two islets
in Canaman within the Bicol River
The move of the government in 1957 was
understandable. A December 1956 flooding in Bicol caused
heavy losses on palay, copra, livestock, public and private
property. That flood killed eighty three Bicolanos.
The Bicol River Basin Development
Project (BRBDP), in 1970s, believed that flooding was one of
the key constrains in the development of the Bicol region.
In the early 70s, the cut-off channel
area in Canaman and Gainza was integrated into the BRBDP.
The BRBDP was a government project with
about PhP1.5billion fund assistance from the USAID. Albay and
Camarines Sur provinces were the major beneficiaries of the
A significant portion of the
PhP1.5billion came from the European Economic Community, and
the Asian Development Bank. The program objective was to
increase the per capita income of rural families;
particularly, it aimed to increase agricultural productivity
and employment opportunities, provide for a more equitable
distribution of wealth, and promote agro-industrial and
industrial development. The project ended in the late 1980s.
The affected area.
The BRDBP existed for more than a decade
but it was not able to stop the erosion problem along the
Bicol riverbank particularly along the cut-off channels in
Canaman and Gainza.
Though BRBDP had a positive evaluation
of its project in 1985, the residents of the affected
barangays of the cut-off channel in Mangayawan, Iquin, San
Francisco, Fundado and San Nicolas of Canaman are not happy.
They are losing their lands through erosion; and salt water
is making its way into whatever land is left to them.
Perhaps the BRBDP had
focused too much on its strategy of Integrated Area
Development (IAD) of the Bicol region but forgot to address a
very specific problem in Canaman and Gainza.
Was erosion control and environmental
protection not part of the PhP1.5 billion budget?
Barangay Iquin is in one of the two
islets created by the cut-off channel. According to one
residents of barangays Iquin, “hindi lamang "isolation" ang
epekto ng pagka-isla ang dulot ng cut-off channels, dahan
dahan din itong ngumangatngat, na parang anay, sa aming lupain
.” (It is not only isolation that the cut-off channel bestowed
upon us due to the creation of an islet; the river is also
like a termite that is slowing eating our land).
This rapid erosion is expected when the
natural contour of rivers are destroyed. Environmentalists
and engineers should know that very basic concept.
One technical consultant of the
municipality of Canaman, in 2000, computed that about 24
hectares of agricultural land, near the cut-off channels, have
been lost due to erosion. In terms of volume, about one
million cubic-meter of soil was eroded and drained to San
Miguel Bay. The width of the river increased by about 400%
from 15 meters in 1957 to about 70 meters today.
This soil sediment can easily destroy
hundreds of hectare of corral reefs in San Miguel Bay and the
Pacific Ocean, where thousands of Bicolanos get their
livelihood. Unfortunately for these Bicolanos there was no
strong environmental protection component in past government
projects. Environmental protection was not at the BRBDP
Future foreign-funded government
projects should understand that there can be no agricultural
productivity and increase in per capita income if the
environment is being destroyed by that project. They just have
to look at the experience of Canaman and Gainza.
Property and ownership.
Many houses along the cut-off channels
in Canaman have been moved away from the riverbank. Erosion
has been constantly threatening to destroy these homes.
There is also a continuing
issue of the ownership of lands that are adjacent to the river
easement. Because of the eroding river easement, there are
instances when it is no longer clear to the residents where
the limit of the easement and their properties are. Some
thought that they own the property that they are occupying
only to find out that other resident of that barangay is
claiming it. There are incidents when this confusion becomes
a source of conflict among the residents.
In addition to erosion, barangay captain
Edmundo Cortina of Barangay San Jose
East of Canaman, believe that, "isa pa
sa dumadagungdong na epekto ng cut-off channel ay ang kagyat
na pagpasok ng tubig-alat," (one detrimental effect of the
cut-off channel is the inflow of sea water) from San Miguel
Bay. It is true that during the rainy season the water drains
fast into San Miguel Bay; but, during the dry season, water
from the bay also moves rapidly upstream .
About 65% of the ricefield in Canaman
are affected by the inflow of seawater.
Years after the billion-peso BRBDP was
terminated, many of these rice areas still rely on rain water
If there is no solution.
If there will be no solution to the
continuing erosion, it is estimated that in the year 2015 the
width of the cut-off channel in Canaman and Gainza will be
about 130 meters. This is an additional one million
cubic-meter of soil particles into the San Miguel bay.
Residents in Canaman have been observing
brown-colored water of the river after a heavy rainfall—a
manifestation of heavy soil particles in the water. This
means that sunlight can no longer penetrate the water and this
can have a negative effect to the ecosystem of the river.
In the past, concrete rip-rap was
constructed along some portion of the Bicol River. But because
of strong undercurrent, due to the rapid water flow, these
structures were easily destroyed.
The erosion problem experienced by the
people of Canaman and Gainza may just be a part of a
“collateral damage” brought about by a government project.
If this is the case, they have all the right to pressure
the government to help them preserve and conserve whatever
land that is left to them—land that has given them life for
generations (Kaiba News and Features, email: