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Illegal logging a major factor in flood devastation of Philippines
MANILA (AFP) Dec 01, 2004
Decades of illegal logging, unusually high rainfall and geography have all contributed to the devastation wrought by storms that have lashed the Philippines, the government and environmentalists say.

With hundreds dead or missing in floods and landslides in Quezon, Nueva Ecija and Aurora provinces, blame has fallen on illegal loggers who have stripped hillsides bare and turned lush green forests into death traps.

Geography has played its part too. The Philippine archipelago of some 7,000 islands sits astride Southeast Asia's typhoon belt and is usually the first country to be hit by typhoons from the Pacific Ocean.

Infanta, one of the hardest-hit areas, is usually the first port of call for an average of 19 typhoons and tropical storms that hit the Philippines every year, said chief government weather forecaster Prisco Nilo.

He said the latest storm was the 25th to veer into the Philippines this year, making it an exceptional year.

Government hydrologist Richard Orendain said although the residents of Infanta and nearby Real and General Nakar are used to typhoons, what they probably failed to anticipate was the consequences of the amount of rainfall that fell on the region over the past week.

Orendain told AFP that in one 24-hour period on Sunday some 144 millimeters (4.3 fluid ounces) of rain fell over the region. The monthly average for November is 611 millimeters.

"Even though it was not a strong typhoon, the destructive impact was magnified by the amount of rain that fell over the area," he said.

"We can't really say whether illegal logging was the main cause, though it may have contributed to it."

Orendain said the ground water table had "probably reached saturation point" noting that the area was hard hit by another storm just a week earlier.

"So the water had no where to go," he said.

With many in the government blaming illegal logging for the current disaster, President Gloria Arroyo ordered a nationwide crackdown.

"Illegal logging must now be placed in the order of most serious crimes against our people," Arroyo said in a statement Wednesday.

"The series of landslides and flashfloods that hit several parts of the country should serve as a wake up call for us to join hands in preserving our environment and stepping up reforestation."

Senator Richard Gordon has called for an investigation into the disaster.

"For years the the department of environment and natural resources has failed to go after the illegal loggers operating in many parts of the country," he told reporters Tuesday.

Vice President Noli de Castro said the country had still not learned the lessons from landslides and flooding in 1991 on the island of Leyte which left thousands dead.

"Illegal logging was found to be the main contributor to that disaster," de Castro said.

Forest economist Lourdes Catindig, of the government's natural resources and environment department, told AFP the southern Sierra Madre, which runs through the eastern section of the main island of Luzon, still has some forest cover left.

"We issued a logging moratorium in the area in the 1970s," she said.

In the last decade, the Philippines has suffered severely from natural disasters.

In 1990, central Luzon was hit by both a drought and a typhoon that flooded practically all of Manila.

Still more damaging was an earthquake in 1990 that devastated a wide area in Luzon, including Baguio and other northern areas.

The archipelago also straddles the so-called Pacific rim of fire and is home to some 200 volcanoes of which 17 are still active.

In June 1991, the second largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century took place at Mount Pinatubo, just 90 kilometers (55 miles) northwest of Manila. Up to 800 people were killed and 100,000 made homeless following the eruptions.

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