Flood at our home in Palawan!

Flood waters in our living room © Ron Dangcalan (2022)

As I write on my desk now, I could hear the sound of water from the road nearby flowing into our property. In the rare occasions that I am here in Brooke’s Point, Palawan, I have not anticipated that I would be up for another surprise during December.

Our Decembers actually have been very strange in the past few years. The rather merry season with calm and gentle weather has been replaced with devasting disasters. Last year in 2021 when my grandmother was still alive, we had Typhoon Odette. Our town was spared of the devastation it caused as it made landfall in Northern Palawan. But we had no electricity, water, internet or mobile signal for around a week. It was strange to be disconnected to the whole world. Like you have no idea what was happening.

This year is insane. For the first time ever in my life, a flood this intensity has happened. I was five years old in 1999 when waters entered our house but it was just a few centimeters high. Now it is about a foot into our living room (see the picture above) and still rising. We are a little bit scared as the rain is not stopping especially in the upland areas. Moreover, the high tide will be at its peak this midnight.

I have no idea where to begin. Exact attribution on the causes of the flood are hard to pinpoint. The rains, for one, have not stopped. So the capacity of the soil to absorb water was not much to begin with. Hence, a flood this big. The other reason was that the National Highway that was enhanced, where our house is adjacent to, was a lot higher in terms of elevation than our property. So all the water goes directly into us. In the absence of a drainage system, the water just goes everywhere. In fact, it accumulates in our property since we now have one of the lowest elevations in the area.

But much of the flood water also comes from upstream. Decades of land use change wherein forests were converted into agricultural lands (rice, coconut, etc) meant that there are little means to absorb the water. The mountains where we are have been deforested at a steady rate. There is a mining operation upstream and some Palm oil plantations too in adjacent areas. Of course, climate change causes storms and weather disruptions to be stronger. The extent one influences the other is not clear to me yet in the absence of hard data.

It seems though like a message for me to really focus here and do something for my hometown. A social-ecological analysis that looks into flooding, mining and other changes in the land, economy and ecosystem have to be looked into. This would really be helpful in understanding ways on how we can move forward. As a local who was born and has grown up here, I find it incredibly personal — all these things that are happening to my hometown.

I think this is a game changer to really experience flooding firsthand and the feeling of being helpless. I am personally struck at how all the lessons I know about flooding and disasters suddenly seem to not have worked. I have not in my wildest dream ever imagined that this would happen to us.

But once the flood subsides, I hope the Lord will guide me on how to move forward. Both in cleaning and flood-proofing our house but also in thinking how to navigate this changing social-ecological system in my hometown.

For now, it will be a long night. We remain vigilant of what is to come. But I really hope that the rain would stop so we could begin making sense of all these.

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