A CABINET member has expressed alarm over the rapid deforestation and the potential impact of climate change-triggered effects to communities in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR).
Commissioner Heherson T. Alvarez of the Climate Change Commission (CCC) said the forest reservation in the watersheds and river basins in the region are in critical state with around 500 hectares of forest cover lost every year.
Alvarez, who holds the rank of Cabinet secretary, issued the statement in time for the Seventh Interfaith Dialogue on Climate Change (IFD), called to tackle sustainable development of watersheds and river basins to guard against the catastrophic climate change, ensure food security and promote renewable energy.
He said that as the capacity of forests to absorb carbon emission is diminished, global warming and climate change are exacerbated.
Alvarez said that forest cover in the Cordilleras has dwindled to less than 47 percent.
“Seventy-one percent of Mount Data National Park had been converted to agricultural, residential and commercial use, while more than half of the forests in the provinces of Apayao, Kalinga and Mountain Province had been logged over,” he said.
Alvarez noted that the Cordilleras is the “watershed cradle” of Northern Luzon as its forests sustain six of Northern Luzon’s major river systems.
The Mount Data forest reserve at the boundary of Benguet-Mountain Province hosts five major rivers— the Chico, Ahin, Siffu, Abra and Amburayan rivers— which traverse the Cordillera provinces and drain into the lowlands. Also originating from Mount Data is the Agno River which flows through Benguet and drains into Pangasinan.
Aside from the forest acting as carbon sink, the Cordillera river basins with a total drainage area of 5.5 million hectares and groundwater storage of about 150 million cubic meters are vital because these supply the irrigation and hydroelectric energy of Northern Luzon.
Alvarez warned that soil erosion from the balding mountainsides along the entire length of the Agno River basin, which originates from the Cordillera mountains, results in severe siltation of the reservoirs of San Roque, Ambuklao and Binga dams. The three dams are the source of a total of almost 550 megawatts of carbon-free electricity to the Luzon grid, he added.
“Unless massive denudation of the forests and watersheds of the Cordilleras is abated, heavy flooding and mudslides in several towns located downstream of major rivers in the area will only worsen,” he said.
“Each tree acts like a big well that can absorb two to five hours of rainfall,” he noted.
He added that to make communities adaptive and resilient to the disastrous impacts of climate change, there is a need to implement a sustainable river basin management in the area.
The Sierra Madre range, the longest mountain range in the country, connects to the Cordillera Central range through the Caraballo Mountains.
“If the highlands river basins of the Cordilleras and Sierra Madre are protected, they will sustain our life support system unto eternity,” Alvarez said.