Agusan river is considered as the third largest river basin in the Philippines. Traversing the municipalities of Agusan del Sur and Agusan del Norte, including Butuan City, it has been a blessing to people of the region. Butuan City has had a history of being flooded by the waters of Agusan River. The areas surrounding the said river is very susceptible to heavy flooding, especially during the rainy season.
Barangay Mahogany, one of the communities in the banks of Agusan River is among those communities constantly flooded. Way back in January 20, 2017, over 2,303 families were evacuated after Agusan river’s water reached critical levels following torrential rains. Over the years, residents here were encouraged to relocate because of the dangers brought about by flash floods and rise in water levels. But despite that, there are still over 1,259 household living in Barangay Mahogany.
One of the reasons of the heavy flooding in recent years, according to the young and active Barangay Chairperson Jesus Rodriguez Jr., is the presence of thick layers of water hyacinths and the garbage that clogged the Mahogany Creek, a tributary to the Agusan River. The water hyacinths were described by Chairperson Rodriguez as “so thick that you can stand on the water hyacinths and not get wet.” The water hyacinths and garbage clogs the river, which makes even the passage of fishing boats in the area hard.
Water hyacinths (scientific name: Eichhornia crassipes Mart Solms) were considered by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) as “pests.” They are aquatic weeds that are present in polluted rivers. It feed upon pollutants and are in full bloom when a body of water is polluted.
Because of their vulnerability towards floods, they had to undergo disaster preparedness activities and training’s. The Barangay was able to partner with some of the private companies situated in Barangay Mahogany. One of these is Richmond Plywood Corporation, which was an old partner of the Barangay even before the term of Barangay Chairperson Rodriguez.
But with the emergence of the Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation (CCAM) pilot project, implemented by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), under the Disaster Response and Management Division (DRMD), the partnership between the two organizations were strengthen. CCAM educated not just the Barangay officials but also the residents of Mahogany about the importance of disaster mitigation. They imparted the value of preparedness and mitigation in times of calamities.
Through the different capacity building activities implemented, residents realized that the clogging brought about by the garbage and water hyacinths makes the Barangay more vulnerable during rainy season. Because of this, they have proposed to use the assistance of the CCAM program to clean and unclog the Mahogany creek. During the implementation of CCAM, Richmond Corporation provided a backhoe loader and additional labor compensation for the beneficiaries from the Barangay.
These initiatives made changes in the behavior of the residents of the community. Residents are now conscious with their garbage disposal. Elementary schools in the area now have shoot-the-bottle bins in order to promote recycling of plastic bottles. With the garbage and hyacinths cleaned, fishing boats can now pass by the Mahogany creek, and children now enjoy swimming in the water because it is way cleaner than it was before. Now it is possible to fish compared before where it was covered by the thick layers of water hyacinths. Residents are now less worried about heavy flooding.
The Barangay also took responsibility in maintaining the cleanliness of Mahogany creek. They were able to pass SB resolution No. 193-Series of 2018, appointing Barangay Tanod Carlito Galido as in-charge of maintaining cleanliness in and around the river banks of Mahogany.
The partnership between the two organizations were also continued even after the implementation of CCAM. Richmond Plywood Corporation gives the Barangay Php 3,000 per month to help maintain the Mahogany creek. The Corporation also pledged to continue the public-private partnership with more projects in the future.
The plan of Barangay Chairperson Rodriguez is to promote tourism and further the recycling and waste segregation efforts in the Barangay. In fact, they have already started making the river filter made out of recycled plastic bottles and the floating cottage. This would promote tourism and at the same time reduce the effects of climate change.
At 27, Barangay Chairperson Rodriguez is among the young and active advocates of CCAM. He has shown that with true leadership, he can lead a community and turn around the effects of climate change and improve their living conditions in their Barangay.