Flood-prone town needs ₱250 million to widen portion of Cagayan River

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 1) — The municipality of Alcala in Cagayan is seeking the national government’s help in solving its perennial flooding problem.

Alcala was among the towns submerged in floodwaters when Typhoon Ulysses hit the country in mid-November. More than 10,000 residents had to evacuate while thousands more stayed in their flooded homes.

“We are uniquely situated in a not-so-good-way with respect to flooding,” Alcala Mayor Cristina Antonio told CNN Philippines’ "Front and Center."

The town of Alcala is separated by the Cagayan River, the country’s longest river. It is also where the Pared River, a tributary, meets the Cagayan River.

“Even during the dry season, there is an increase in water level at that junction,” Antonio said.

The mayor added that the river channel, which goes as wide as 400 meters, constricts to a width of 150 to 180 meters in Alcala, from Barangay Tupang all the way to Barangay Magapit in Lal-lo, spanning 37 kilometers.

According to a study conducted by the University of the Philippines’ Marine Science Institute at the local government’s request, a major solution would be the widening of the river channel from Tupang to Magapit. Covering the Alcala segment alone would cost ₱250 million, Antonio said.

‘A pittance compared to what we suffer’

“I believe that this amount is a drop in a bucket," the mayor said. "It’s a pittance compared to the damage that we experience, that we suffer, that the people of Alcala, and the people of Cagayan all the way to Isabela suffer."

“It is a massive intervention that the LGU cannot do alone,” she added.

Antonio asked the UP Marine Science Institute to look into the town’s situation in December 2019, after it suffered a “100-year-flood” — an event that only has a 1% chance of taking place each year.

“The flood that is supposed to happen only every one hundred years happened again after 11 months,” Antonio wrote on her Facebook page on Nov. 15, as residents once again reeled from devastating floods.

To help control flooding for now, the municipality is conducting massive tree planting to build a “green wall." Antonio said the project is in response to the lack of native trees due to illegal logging and other activities in Cagayan Valley.

The Environment Department is investigating the logging and mining activities in the region as ordered by President Rodrigo Duterte. He stressed the need to strengthen forest protection efforts after Typhoon Ulysses left at least 73 people dead.

Cagayan River Basin Project

In an earlier interview, Public Works Secretary Mark Villar, who leads the recently formed task force on typhoon rehabilitation, cited the ongoing Cagayan River Basin Project, but stressed that revetments – sloping structures placed on banks to absorb the energy of incoming water – cannot be done in the entire 800-kilometer river.

The ₱2.1-billion flood control project was funded under a loan agreement between the Philippines and the Japanese government through the Japan International Cooperation Agency. It covers a 940-meter revetment project in Barangay Alibago, Enrile, as well as a 970-meter spur dike and 1,400-meter revetment in Barangay Cataggaman, Tuguegarao City.

“We really have to pick areas and we have to be strategic in what infrastructure programs (to do),” Villar said.

Experts are calling on the government to declare a state of climate emergency for a whole-of-government response to the crisis. It is now being tackled at the House of Representatives.

Catch the full interviews during the premiere of "Front and Center" on Wednesday, December 2, 7 p.m.