Conservancy Upped for Apayao-Abulog River Basin

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KABUGAO, Apayao — If river pollution, from Batanes to Jolo, is nothing new and a national problem that persists, the Province of Apayao in Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), is nonetheless carving  a highway to alter a better for route for the Apayao-Abulog River Basin, considered the 9th largest river system in the Philippines.

Fully backed by the Philippine national government and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the provincial government will lay down the foundations of an integrated flood-risk management for the Apayao-Abulog River Basin (AARB).

Termed “Nature-Based Solution” by the Infrastructure Preparation and Innovation Facility (IPF) of ADB, the approach leverages intrinsic abilities of AARB to be revitalized while boosting the basin’s climate resilience.

Nature-based solutions and non-structural measures, which are part of what ADB explained as “Natural River Management”, are seen to be vital in dealing with current and future environmental threats.

Employing principles of participatory water resources management, the flood-risk management for AARB strives to respect the natural dynamics and flow of the river, its sediments and nutrients and the Apayao residents’ dependence on the basin.

There are 143,379 inhabitants concentrated along the basin’s coastal area.

“Climate change conditions that are now considered extreme may become the new normal, resulting in more and intensified floods. In addition, increasing exposure due to population growth and movement can further increase flood risk in the Philippines,” explained the technical experts working with ADB.

Technically termed “Natural River Management,” it is an approach adopted by Apayao provincial government that leverages intrinsic abilities of the AARB system to deliver climate resilience at a lower cost while minimizing environmental and social impacts.

Apayao with the help of the national government and ADB will invest more in green infrastructure, which is an ecosystem-based adaptation approach in protecting people against floods and impacts from extreme weather.

It also addresses climate change and biodiversity threats.

ADB explained that in the face of multiplying climate-related threats and potential exposure to natural hazards, hard (gray) infrastructure alone may no longer be enough to build climate resilience.

Any hard infrastructure that will be poured at the AARB is part and parcel on the ramped up spending on hard infrastructure of the Philippine government, estimated at 180 billion dollars under the “Build, Build, and Build Program.”

A large share of this program is slated in vital river basins in the Philippines like AARB that possesses enormous impact on natural resources sustainability, health of ecosystems and improving Philippine biodiversity.

Investment in the Apayao-Abulog River on nature-based solutions with green infrastructure and socially inclusive concepts have been studied and accepted as effective measures, ADB said.

Green infrastructure often is in the form of functionally designed green spaces that serve the hydrological functions  among other ecosystem services, which ADB said  can be enjoyed for recreation which is especially beneficial in populated areas within the Apayao-Abulog River Basin belt.

Examples of the green infrastructure ADB delved into at the Apayao-Abulog River Basin include ecotourism sites within the basin’s belt like Blue Haven, Agamata Park, Dacao Irrigation Intake, Jamboree Site, Turod View Deck, Swan Hilltop View of Mt. Solo, Lizardo Brooks, Negritos Village and the various waterfalls of different sizes along Apayao river.

From the stated green infrastructure, Apayao-Abulog River Basin offers a myriad of ecosystem services as reflected in the number of eco- tourism sites in the area, in the viability of water sources, in the presence of mineral resources and in being a key biodiversity area.

The Apayao Lowland Forest Key Biodiversity Area (ALFKBA) is home to three species of rats (2 of which are endemic), 13 species of bats, 22 species of herbs and 91 species from 10 families of birds. Looking at these alone, the basin’s conservancy needs to be over-emphasized.

In the case of the Apayao-Abulog River Basin, it was revealed by ADB that the Department of Works and Highways (DPWH) tasked to work on project design and implementation has included in its system the “Guidelines for Mainstreaming Natural River Management in ADB Water Sector Management,” to systematically integrate “Natural-Based Solutions” and “Natural River Management into the water sector investments.

Nature-based solution for natural river management are presently being zeroed in by the Philippine government with support from ADB to six major river basins in the Philippines – namely, Abra River Basin in CAR, Apayao-Abulog River Basin in CAR, Jaluar River Basin in Region VI, Agus River Basin in ARMM, Buayan-Malungon River Basin in Region XI &XII and Tagum-Libuganon River Basin in Regions XI & XIII.

ADB took into account the “Integrated River Basin Management and Development Master Plan formulated with the spearhead of Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR-CAR) and presented to ADB.

Environmental issues, submitted by the Apayao-Abulog River Basin management Council were incorporated in the ADB study which included poverty incidence, low productivity, inadequate infrastructure support facilities and utilities, incompatible land uses, under-utilization of resources, unbalanced local economy and thematic issues and problems.

Both ADB and DENR-CAR stressed the need for a river basin information system and communication, education and public awareness plan, among others, to be incorporated in natural river management of Apayao-Abulog River Basin.

“Good communication boosts ownership of basin management. Public awareness campaigns and education program encourage support for basin management. Despite considerable research and studies on water resources management, effective dissemination and uptake of knowledge requires effective exchange strategy,” DENR explained in development of the Apayao-Abulog River master plan.

Integration of nature-based and natural river management of Apayao-Abulog River Basin is, in fact, the articulation of statement of stakeholders in Apayao province, in setting out how they will share, utilize, manage and conserve the water resource in their basin, ADB stressed.

Their stance considers and integrates climate change and disaster risk management in the river basin. They know that climate variability will have profound effects and impacts on Apayao-Abulog River Basin hydrology, as well as spatial and temporal distribution of their water resources, explained ADB.

Apayao province  stakeholders, as well as other concerned residents are banking on green as well as inclusive interventions that respect dynamics and ecosystem functions of Apayao-Abulog River Basin, of which these include what ADB pointed out as flood conveyance, water retention and detention, bank erosion control and flood impact reduction.

Considered one of the largest river systems in the Philippines, Apayao-Abulog River spans 3,776Km2 and stretches to 175 kilometers. It traces its origins from the mountains of Apayao. Considered twin of another river, which is the Apayao River, it meets the latter in the municipality of Kabugao then takes a northeasterly course towards the sea.

More than 80 per cent of its total drainage area occupies the Apayao province, particularly in the municipalities of Calanasan, Luna, Flora, Pudtol, Santa Marcela and Kabugao. While the rest covers the province of Cagayan particularly in the municipalities of Abulog, Allapacan, Ballesteros, Mira, Pamplona and Sanchez.

The Apayao-Abulog River has land area 195,659 hectares and classified by DENR as one among the 140 watersheds critical in their roles in the Philippines in supporting irrigation water, hence their dire need for their ADB-initiated conservation and rehabilitation.

Principal drainage way of the basin is the Abulog River, its headwaters found at Mount Magna in Central Cordillera. The river runs along a semi-circular path in southeasterly direction then curves northeasterly towards Babuyan Channel.

From its headwaters down to Kabugao municipality, the river is simply known by Apayao residents as Apayao River.

However, a major tributary of the Abulog River, which is the Tauit River, and which has its headwaters in Mount Bagucan near the Kabugao-Conner boundary, joins the Abulog River near Cabinatan in Pudtol municipality and as a whole forms what is called the Apayao-Abulog River Basin.

Observations by DENR-CAR and ADB point out that increase in frequency of extreme events have environmental implications on the basin that trigger landslides and erosions particularly in its areas poorly covered by vegetation.

The Apayao-Abulog River Basin, like other critical basins in the Philippines, is a complicated water system with multifarious and diverse components that are interdependently linked. Meaning, an action of one component impacts other components, ADB explained.

Hence, it behooves river basin managers like the Apayao-Abulog River Basin Management Council and the Apayao Northwestern Cagayan Rivers Sustainable Development and Management Council to keep remembering the interdependencies of each component and ensure integrated and coordinated government approach.

By far, ADP took positive note of the efforts of the two councils, in their management principle and approach that have shown a degree of success in the conservancy for the Apayao-Abulog River Basin.

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