More volunteers helping Datu Piang clear river from water hyacinths

Climate Change/Environment • Tue Feb 21, 2017 06:13 PM  •  265   0
By John Unson
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 Volunteers are gaining headway in clearing the Datu Piang River from water hyacinths.  (JOHN UNSON)
Volunteers are gaining headway in clearing the Datu Piang River from water hyacinths. (JOHN UNSON)
MAGUINDANAO --- More than 300 former drug dependents volunteered to help remove manually a large swath of water hyacinths now dangerously blocking a stretch of a large river in Datu Piang town.

Barangay folks, policemen, soldiers, members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) have been trying to clear the river from water hyacinths using farm tools and chainsaws for two weeks now.

The Humanitarian Emergency Assistance and Response Team (HEART) of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao on Tuesday said drug offenders, among them former peddlers of shabu, who surrendered to authorities last year are now working alongside about 500 volunteers.

Engineer James Mlok, chief of Maguindanao’s Second District Engineering Office, said the volunteers are working in shifts in cutting into small blocks the thick “carpet” of water hyacinths to be easily flushed downstream.

The office of Mlok and the HEART separately provided volunteers with chainsaws they now use in the clearing operation.

The tightly-knitted hyacinths, with roots bound toughly by silt together, covers almost nine hectares of a wide channel of the river just along the town proper of Datu Piang in the second district of Maguindanao.

It started only as a small patch of aquatic plants that tangled with the columns of a bridge connecting Datu Piang to Midsayap, North Cotabato and eventually shut the downstream flow of the river over time.

So visible is the river’s obstruction by water hyacinths to local officials and barangay leaders, now subject of criticisms for their shabby focus on the problem. Sources from the Department of Interior and Local Government-ARMM on Tuesday said a municipal government is authorized to spend five percent of its monthly Internal Revenue Allotment for emergency and disaster mitigation programs.

Local government units can also embark on “food-for-work” scheme using municipal funds when relying on constituents for labor-intensive security and development initiatives.

Mlok provided the volunteers last week with snacks and clean drinking water. He said he is hoping they can clear the river from water hyacinths in the next three months.

More than 50 workers from Mlok's office have been helping remove the water hyacinths that clogged the Datu Piang River, which they intend to reopen before the onset of the rainy season.

Mlok and military engineers earlier said the river will surely overflow and cause the inundation of riverside villages during rainy days if the water hyacinths are left to obstruct its flow to the western seacoast of Cotabato City.

Workers have cut down into small blocks, easily swept away by current, about 23 percent of the nine-hectare “water hyacinth island” in continuing clearing operations that began early this month.

The Datu Piang River connects to the nearby 220,000-hectare Liguasan Delta that swells during rainy days.

The delta is a catch basin for rivers that springs from hinterlands in the provinces of Maguindanao, South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Bukidnon.

The HEART, operating under the ministerial control of ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman, is helping supply food for the volunteers involved in the clearing operations.
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