No to hasty river dredging (2)
If our rivers are dredged by contractors who will work for free, they will only dredge the river materials that they can sell for commercial gain, and then leave the project unfinished. There’s no compensation for their further efforts anyway, so there’s no incentive for them to finish the contract. The project then becomes an all-you-can-haul quarrying bonanza for free that’s granted to lucky contractors.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources, provincial governors, and the Sangguniang Panlalawigan must not be tempted by such a deceptive arrangement. because towns and provinces may end up more vulnerable to even greater dangers of flooding caused by uncompleted river projects.
Take for example the massive floods recently caused by the Cagayan River in northern Luzon. Apart from the enormous volume of water produced by four successive typhoons, a major contributory cause of the flooding is the narrowing of the river from 400 meters wide to merely 180 meters in the town of Alcala, Cagayan. The funnel-like constriction of the river caused huge volumes of water to backflow, resulting in unprecedented flooding from Alcala to Tuguegarao City, and even further upstream all the way up to Ilagan, Isabela, a total distance of 120 kilometers of flooded plains.
If the widening of the river channel is not given priority in any flood control project, the unprecedented flooding experienced in Cagayan Valley two years in a row will make a yearly pilgrimage of death and destruction in the region, because of stronger typhoons due to climate change. If contractors-for-free are enlisted for the river project, they will only dredge the river sand valuable for construction, load them to ships to be exported abroad, and abandon the river channel-widening aspect of the project because it may not yield commercially marketable construction materials.
And why should we allow the exportation for free of valuable construction materials dredged from our rivers? Every year, our government engages in so many construction projects that require huge volumes of river sand and gravel. Look at our annual national budget and see how many hundreds of billions’ worth of construction projects are implemented each year. Why not stockpile all the sand and gravel in order to lower the cost of public works?
There’s more than sand, gravel, and silt in our river beds, it turns out. According to studies conducted by one of our country’s top geologists, Dr. Fernando Siringan, the Lower Cagayan River has approximately 40 million tons of magnetite (black sand) which has a heavy concentration of iron, the main mineral component of steel. Dr. Siringan also estimates that for every 6 kilos of iron derived from magnetite, one can potentially derive a kilo of titanium, and for every 50 kilos of iron, one can get a kilo of vanadium, which is a rare earth metal. Traces of the scandium and platinum group of metals have also been detected in Cagayan River magnetite. These metals have values that are close to and even higher than gold.
Foreign contractors are willing to dredge our rivers even for free because not only will they scoop up valuable construction materials, they will also get a bonanza of precious metals for free. Dr. Siringan recommends that the government should look for investors willing to put up a processing plant in Cagayan for extraction of rare earth elements and other metals. This way, the country will reap higher benefits, instead of giving away our precious resources.
The Cagayan River is also home to endemic river clams that provide food and livelihood for communities near the river, as well as the most expensive fish in our country, ludong, which is sold for as much as P10,000 per kilo.
There is an urgent need to come up with solutions to our destructive floods. But there must be no room for unscientific haste. In our search for solutions, we must not squander our natural resources, destroy livelihoods dependent on our unique ecosystem, and end up exposing our communities to even greater risks resulting from the haphazard dredging of our vital river systems.
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