Tech­nol­ogy, dis­as­ter, and con­ser­va­tion

Cebu Daily News - - OPINION -

Ido not know if I will find the time to read the writ­ing about some­one’s fam­ily’s slave that has ap­par­ently be­come an in­ter­net sen­sa­tion. But a quote from the story’s au­thor posted by a col­league in­ter­ests me.

Our coun­try, the au­thor says, is a col­lec­tion of rocks in the ocean that from time to time fall un­der, only to resur­face so that life may go on.

This view takes me back to the nineties when sev­eral storms in­clud­ing Su­per Typhoon Rup­ing made land­fall in Cebu.

Rup­ing made head­lines for bring­ing the Ce­buano ar­chi­pel­ago to a stand­still and for in­fa­mously rock­ing a ship such that it hit and in­flicted dam­age on what was then the only Mac­tan bridge.

My rec­ol­lec­tion of im­me­di­ate ex­pe­ri­ences of storms has be­come patchy such that I can no longer match episodes to par­tic­u­lar storms. But in one of them, we had to flee our low-ly­ing house be­cause the flood­wa­ters en­tered.

I was not yet 10 and knew noth­ing of the swim­ming abil­ity of ca­nines, so I scooped up our mon­grel, Chucky in my arms, afraid that he would drown in the waist-deep wa­ters. I brought him safe – and per­haps an­noyed – to a neigh­bor’s house where my fam­ily took shel­ter un­til the storm passed.

There were other cy­clones that brought with them the usual ab­nor­mal­i­ties like power and wa­ter short­ages and sus­pended classes. To our house­hold, the worst that hap­pened was the col­lapse of a con­crete fence that for­tu­nately left no one in­jured. Vy­ing for the most pain­ful storm af­ter­math was the loss to floods of thou­sands of pho­to­graphs that mother kept in al­bums be­neath our liv­ing room ta­ble.

Oth­ers have had it worse. I write from the prov­ince of Iloilo where mem­o­ries are still fresh of the havoc that Su­per Typhoon Yolanda of 2013 and other ty­phoons wreaked. Lo­cal gov­ern­ments here, how­ever, are some­how con­vert­ing their trau­matic his­tory with nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, aided by Uni­ver­sity of the Philip­pines (UP) Cebu re­searchers.

Over the last few years, sci­en­tists led by pro­fes­sors Jon­nifer Sino­gaya and Judith Si­la­pan of UP Cebu’s Col­lege of Science have been work­ing with light de­tec­tion and rang­ing (li­dar), a re­mote sens­ing tech­nol­ogy to gen­er­ate maps that will help com­mu­ni­ties cope with na­ture’s wrath and man­age their nat­u­ral re­sources.

On May 18 and 19, rep­re­sen­ta­tives from lo­cal gov­ern­ments across the Western Visayas re­gion that in­clude Ak­lan, An­tique, Capiz, Guimaras, Iloilo, and Ne­gros Oc­ci­den­tal prov­inces gath­ered at the UP Visayas au­di­to­rium in Iloilo City to re­ceive and be fa­mil­iar with the maps.

These maps can be used in sev­eral con­texts, for in­stance in the face of floods.

Com­bin­ing of­fi­cial data and li­dar, the UP Cebu re­searchers con­cluded that Vic­to­rias City, Ne­gros Oc­ci­den­tal is gen­er­ally ex­posed to flood­ing, but that one barangay is the most sen­si­tive to it. This barangay has poor ac­cess to roads and bridges and has the largest num­ber house­holds with­out any al­ter­na­tive to farm­ing as in­come source.

In light of such ev­i­dence, it be­comes im­per­a­tive for the lo­cal gov­ern­ment con- cerned to make al­ter­na­tive job op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able for res­i­dents of the said barangay and to in­crease the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion aid that is given to them.

Con­ser­va­tion is an­other arena in which the li­dar-gen­er­ated maps are use­ful. The UP Cebu re­search team also used data and li­dar to help de­ter­mine which ar­eas in Ka­bankalan City, Ne­gros Oc­ci­den­tal are most suit­able for the plant­ing of man­groves.

Now, know­ing which part of the city is the best habi­tat for man­groves is as easy as check­ing the red (suit­able) and green (un­suit­able) ar­eas on a map. The red por­tions of the map in­di­cate places where propag­ules should not be planted be­cause they are close to fish cor­rals and ponds that are in­im­i­cal to man­grove de­vel­op­ment.

Li­dar is also ap­pli­ca­ble in map­ping lo­ca­tions of re­new­able en­ergy sources across the coun­try. Re­mote sens­ing has been used by the li­dar re­search team to draw a bet­ter pic­ture of the Philip­pines’ po­ten­tial sources of hy­dro­elec­tric, so­lar, and wind power.

Western Visayas, with its vast tracts of farm­land, has been shown to have abun­dant de­posits of biomass from co­conut residues and rice husks.

The li­dar map­ping projects, said pro­fes­sor Sino­gaya, were worth P90 mil­lion sourced from the Depart­ment of Science and Tech­nol­ogy and more than 26,000 hours of work. The dis­tri­bu­tion of the maps, he said, sym­bol­ized the re­spon­si­bil­ity of re­cip­i­ents to use them to build dis­as­ter re­siliency in their con­stituen­cies.

“May these maps,” he said, “save lives — a hun­dred, a thou­sand in­clud­ing our own.”

jab­nizm@gmail.com

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