Help in the construction of the Evacuation Center/Multi-Purpose Building at Barangay Sabang Gibong, Talacogon, Agusan del Sur

The Project Area

Agusan Marsh in the Province of Agusan del Sur, Caraga Region is a catch basin, acting like a giant sponge for rainwaters from four provinces of Mindanao. Hence during rainy days, water in the area could rise as high as 30 feet and inundates the area for about 4 months (December – March). The area appears uninhabitable, but given the locals’ ingenuity in times of need, floating communities – literally floating – have taken rise in the area. Houses are built on top of bamboo-floaters, allowing houses to float when water rises. The locals are then afforded with warm shelter even if the surroundings already resemble a vast sea. But houses should be built small in order that constructing and maintaining floaters and the finished house itself would not pose a big problem. Indeed, there is a need to keep the floating house safe from strong current and rampaging debris. There is also the need to position the house in a relatively nice spot before the water subsides. Such necessities could not be easily done when houses are built big.

For infrastructures that need to be big because they will be shared by community members, they need to be elevated. In Barangay Sabang Gibong of the Municipality of Talacogon for instance, the Barangay Hall is designed to be flood-proof. Hence the structure was elevated by 32 ft., enough for it to be referred to as a three-storey building. The Barangay Council office is indeed still functional even if it “wallows” in a 30-feet muddy water.

The Three-Storey Building During Flooding Season. The Third Storey is the Barangay Hall.

But the Elementary School Building in Sabang Gibong cannot be elevated like that of the Barangay Hall. For one, the structure must be much bigger in size and elevating the structure requires sizeable amount. The structure could also not be made “floating” because of the same reason that it is big. Hence, the school building in the locality is one that is not “flood-proof” and also not “floating”, which makes it unusable from December – March every year. During those times, classes are held in floating houses of parents who would allow that their abode be used, or in floating, empty sub-village centers, or in floating health centers or in whatever is available.

Recurring and unpredictable flooding has been identified as one major cause for the violation of children’s rights to quality education. During school days, children with their canoes would paddle through the current of the water for nearly an hour (one way) to reach the cramped and makeshift or improvised schools classrooms. Given the remoteness and the difficult access of reaching the schools, very few teachers are willing to be assigned in the area. If there are, many of them render service less than five days in a week. School classes are held in multi-grade system (i.e. Grades 1 and 2, Grades 3 and 4, Grades 5 and 6 are handled by one teacher at the same time. Thus, it is not unusual that a teacher handles more than 60 children at a time. Given these difficult situations the children have to face daily, more and more are discouraged either from enrolling or from attending school classes.

Recurring and unpredictable flooding deprives the children from the much needed chances to play outside their houses for there is no dry land to jump/run. There are basketball courts in the barangays of Agusan Marsh, but they are submerged up to the board level during rainy days. A one-room house where the whole family members eat, sleep and do their chores, becomes the only space where children can play.

Water and sanitation are very problematic in the area. During flood seasons when water is everywhere, people have nowhere to get safe drinking water. So far they rely on rainwater alone. It is not uncommon reality during this time that for bathing, laundry and even for cooking; people get water from the same body of water where human wastes are disposed of. This leads to high cases of water-borne diseases where most children are the victims.

But when effects of climate change were not yet rampaging, life in the area was relatively easy. During dry season, the locals planted corn among other crops. Since weather then was predictable, locals were assured that before the floods came, their crops were already harvested. During dry season also, the locals could go fishing in big rivers and lakes in the vicinity. When floods came, they would have already stored enough food to last till next harvest. They would also have saved enough from the sales of their fish catches. So life goes on.

But with effects of climate change being felt by communities that contribute almost nothing to greenhouse gases, what will happen to the communities in Agusan Marsh?

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