Mining, logging 'contributed' to Philippine disaster

Dec 09, 2012 by Mynardo Macaraig
Miners pan for gold at a river near the typhoon disaster zone in Mawab town, Compostela Valley province, on December 9. Illegal gold mining and decades of logging contributed to the high death toll in the Philippines' worst natural disaster this year, experts say.

Unchecked illegal gold mining and decades of indiscriminate logging contributed to the high death toll in the Philippines' worst natural disaster this year, officials and experts say.

Whole towns were washed away or buried by when Typhoon Botha smashed into a mountainous region on the southern island of Mindanao last week, leaving 548 people confirmed dead and 827 missing.

Poverty, greed and the lure of the precious metal have long drawn thousands of prospectors to the region.

"Mining and logging may have had an effect," said civil defence chief Benito Ramos.

"The mountains have been denuded for decades, and filled with holes by our countrymen who are small-time miners. It pains me to say this, but these are the facts," he said.

The worst-hit southern town of New Bataan is both a centre of the devastated banana industry and host to some of the thousands of illegal operations in the Mindanao province of Compostela Valley.

Geologists say the mountainous area is mostly unsafe for habitation. But numerous small, illegal or poorly regulated dot its slopes and the local government says they provide 40 percent of the province's economic output.

Much of the was also cut down long ago to make way for row upon row of bananas to supply the major markets of China, Iran and Japan.

The plantations and hopes of striking it rich have drawn hundreds of thousands of poor migrants in search of work. They settle in mountain hamlets around which poisonous mercury, used to extract gold from rock, is routinely dumped into rivers.

The deluge wrought by the strongest cyclone to hit the country this year came despite days of preparations and advance warnings including an early evacuation of vulnerable areas.

A miner pans for gold at a river near the typhoon disaster zone in Mawab town, Compostela Valley province, on December 9. Numerous small, illegal or poorly regulated gold mines dot its slopes and the local government says they provide 40% of the province's economic output.

Governor Arthur Uy said 75,000 people, or one in five in the province, rely on the mines and regulation is a sore point.

The environment ministry insists it is the local officials like Uy who are required by law to issue small-scale mining permits and who must ensure people do not settle areas considered prone to landslides and flash floods.

But Uy protested that the ministry's "geohazard maps" show that 80 percent of the entire province is a danger zone.

"What shall we do? Should we all move from Compostela Valley?" he said.

Uy also said miners had resisted efforts to relocate them, preferring the danger to poverty.

"It is the risk they are willing to take, just to strike it rich. They don't want to move," he said.

Larry Heradez, a technical officer for the Philippine government's mining regulator, said people in New Bataan and nearby gold-rush areas may have known about the danger but sought refuge in the wrong areas.

"There is a problem of information dissemination. The local officials also thought they are evacuating to an area which was safe," he told AFP.

Rescuers said government shelters were among buildings swept by the floods.

In any case, all the elements of a disaster in the making were already there long before geohazard maps came into fashion, said University of the Philippines geology professor Sandra Catana.

"They (have been) living in these areas before technology came about including the awareness of geohazards in this country which started only in 1990s," she told AFP.

With Mindanao usually spared by the 20 or so storms that lash the Philippines every year, people may have become complacent and were caught unprepared by the typhoon which struck further south than usual, officials said.

But the head of a government flood control programme, Mahar Lagmay, warned that weather patterns were changing.

"Previously we have had tracks in the last several decades where (storms) were moving more to the north. Now, they say, it is moving towards the south," he said.

Some 1,200 people were killed when tropical storm Washi struck Mindanao's north coast in December last year, but Uy conceded that residents of his southern region never expected a killer storm like Bopha.

"This was the first time this happened to us, we did prepare... but we never felt anything this strong. We were taken by surprise. That is one of the reasons there were so many casualties," he said.

Explore further: Scientists stalk coastal killer

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Philippine mining reforms ignored at gold-rush site

Aug 05, 2012

The Philippine government wants to close thousands of small-scale mines blamed for environmental devastation, but Reynaldo Elejorde insists his chaotic gold-rush mountain town will survive.

NASA's TRMM satellite measured Washi's deadly rainfall

Dec 20, 2011

NASA's Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite was providing forecasters with the rate in which rainfall was occurring in Tropical Storm Washi over the last week, and now TRMM data has been compiled ...

NASA satellites analyze Typhoon Bopha inside and out

Dec 05, 2012

Typhoon Bopha proved deadly to residents in the Mindanao region of the Philippines after ravaging islands in Micronesia. NASA's Aqua and TRMM satellites peered at the storm inside and out, providing forecasters ...

Gold rush sweeps Latin America, Amazon suffers

May 15, 2012

A new gold rush is sweeping through Latin America with devastating consequences, ravaging tropical forests and dumping toxic chemicals as illegal miners fight against big international projects.

Recommended for you

Scientists stalk coastal killer

4 hours ago

For much of Wednesday, a small group of volunteers and researchers walked in and out of the surf testing a new form of surveillance on the biggest killer of beach swimmers - rip currents.

Fires in Central Africa During July 2014

17 hours ago

Hundreds of fires covered central Africa in mid-July 2014, as the annual fire season continues across the region. Multiple red hotspots, which indicate areas of increased temperatures, are heavily sprinkled ...

NASA's HS3 mission spotlight: The HIRAD instrument

Jul 24, 2014

The Hurricane Imaging Radiometer, known as HIRAD, will fly aboard one of two unmanned Global Hawk aircraft during NASA's Hurricane Severe Storm Sentinel or HS3 mission from Wallops beginning August 26 through ...

User comments : 9

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

ForFreeMinds
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 09, 2012
"Rescuers said government shelters were among buildings swept by the floods."

Yet the article blames mining and logging. No mention is made regarding legal rights to land, the minerals and timber, and why property owners aren't protecting their land. I suspect that property rights are not protected by the government, which is why illegal logging and illegal mining occur. Having had a Phillipine colleague who had to return regarding squatters on his land, due to lack of government enforcement, leads me to believe the government is mostly responsible for the problems.

After all, their shelter washed away. What does it say about government that they endangered those they promised to protect, by providing them a "shelter" where they died?

The author should have investigated why the illegal activity was occurring.

Lurker2358
1 / 5 (1) Dec 09, 2012
After all, their shelter washed away. What does it say about government that they endangered those they promised to protect, by providing them a "shelter" where they died?


the shelter was in a location a bit up the side of the valley from the river. It was destroyed when a lake farther up the mountain burst it's walls and the entire lake flowed down the mountain.

The fresh water level in that area rose by more than 7 meters in a time period of about 30 minutes, and this was an inland location on the Leeward side of the Island.

The Storm Surge (salt water) flooding on one of the smaller islands north of the island hit was so bad that the witnesses literally mistook it for a Tsunami, and that was a protected location...

Typhoon Bopha is the most powerful typhoon ever to hit the southern island since at least the 1940's.

The Philippines is not the U.S. They don't have multi-million dollar computer models to calculate where a worst case scenario flood is or what it does.
VendicarD
not rated yet Dec 09, 2012
When told about the disaster, George Bush immediately replied...

"Nobody anticipated that logs could roll down a hill."

ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (2) Dec 09, 2012
"Poverty, greed and the lure of the precious metal have long drawn thousands of prospectors to the region."

No mention of the corrupt government?

BTW, it is the govt that is buying the gold.
VendicarD
not rated yet Dec 09, 2012
Corrupt governance hasn't lured people to the region either.

Neither has the high murder rate.

"No mention of the corrupt government?" - RyggTard

Poor RyggTard. When will he ever manage to get a single thing right?

Never it would appear.

"BTW, it is the govt that is buying the gold." - RyggTard

Haven't American Conservatives who are waiting for the Zombie Apocalypse the ones that have artificially driven up gold prices to record highs?

I've read reports of toothless Conservative hicks burying the stuff in their backyards in preparation for the imminent biblical tribulation.

Ahahahahahaah... Suckers....
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (2) Dec 09, 2012
"The BSP purchases gold from small-scale miners in accordance with Republic Act No. 7076 (People's Small Scale Mining Act of 1991) and from other sources. It then refines the gold purchased to forms acceptable in the international bullion markets. "
http://www.bsp.go...gold.asp
obama_socks
1 / 5 (3) Dec 09, 2012
LOL...VendicarD will be one of the first to cry out, "MAMA" if the tribulations begin as foretold in Revelation. In fact, with the Socialist in the White House, it seems to have started already. It just hasn't hit hard yet...but there's still time.

Third world countries like the Philippines usually have a government who aren't stringent enough with regulations, whereas, in the U.S., corporations are about to get hit hard with unbelievably tough regulations which will cause a lot of these businesses to fold their tents and steal away, leaving more people unemployed.
That's what Socialism does.
VendicarD
not rated yet Dec 09, 2012
I gave up magical thinking when I was 7 years old.

"VendicarD will be one of the first to cry out, "MAMA" if the tribulations begin as foretold in Revelation." - Sox

Why didn't you?
grampakrapsicher
not rated yet Dec 11, 2012
This environmental and human disaster problem appears to be the result of insufficient and improper preparative engineering to take care of the problems before hand - rather than due to any Mining and Logging.
Requiring small miners to fill in and reclaim their holes after digging them would have taken care of the mining problem. By this article -this is not mining from large scale operations which are difficult to reclaim.
Reforestation would have taken care of the logging problem.
Both are good Environmental Engineering practices, among the others that could have been done.