OPINION: Climate Injustice and the Sustainability Paradox of Kaliwa Dam

The Author trekked along Mt. Daraitin and Tinipak River in Tanay, Rizal, facing the impact of the Kaliwa Dam project. This project exemplifies climate injustice, prioritizing economic progress over environmental and social well-being.

The Author during his trekking along Mt. Daraitin and Tinipak River in Tanay, Rizal. Kaliwa Dam project is expected to inundate this place once operational.

By: Alec Hope Buenaventura

CLIMATE INJUSTICE – while the effects of climate change are global, the weight of its brunt is not the same for all. It is the least contributors, not the chief instigators, who carry the heavy repercussions. Perhaps, the Philippines has a degree of familiarity with this case. The water supply shortage in Metro Manila is actually brought about by climate change. Because of floods and droughts, Angat dam is expected to fall short of supplying clean water to the nation’s center, creating yet another sustainability problem on top of many other social issues the country is already facing. The proposed solution – the Kaliwa dam. However, have we ever considered the validity of this notorious project?

Recently, information has been brought to light that the Kaliwa Dam project is at 30%, that is according to the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System or MWSS. Though far from complete, its persistence poses a graver threat not only to the environment but also to the society. Intensifying climate injustice, a clear case of the so-called sustainability paradox.

As a concept, sustainability is an intersectional concept that one cannot pursue economic progress while sacrificing the environment, culture, morals, and other social and humanitarian aspects. Therefore, a paradox takes place when a certain policy, claims to be “sustainable”, yet only caters to one aspect of development, then compromising the others.

The Kaliwa dam project, for example, aims to resolve an economic issue. Ironically, it is at the expense of the rights of the Indigenous people or IPs and environmental sustainability.

I once had the opportunity to personally speak with one of the affected Indigenous people groups, the Dumagat Remontados of Mt. Daraitan, Tanay, Rizal. The Dumagats are exceptionally virtuous people, possessing rich community values that people from the city cannot easily understand. For them, nature is integral to life and their land is the source of their identity and culture. Not to mention their overflowing fountain of local wisdom, primarily in nature and farming.

As we talk, the Dumagats revealed that the perpetrators of the Kaliwa dam deliberately toned-down the ill-effects of the project. For one, contrary to the report of MWSS, that there will be only around fifty families affected, more than a thousand Dumagat families will forcibly be displaced from their homes if the dam is constructed. There were also no consultations transpired to which they might have expressed their dissent to this project as opposed to the reports. 

Like it is not enough injustice, the dam will also inundate the Tinipak River, the river that gives life, so-sacred to them, a site where most of their religious rites take place.

As expected, the process of drilling and digging to build the dam will engender environmental perils as it destroys the ecological balance of the Sierra Madre. Destructions like these lead to weaker soil integrity which will make the mountain ranges prone to landslides. Sierra Madre also serves as Luzon’s frontier against typhoons entering the country. Thus, if the project continues, the threat of typhoons to hit the Philippines stronger is imminent. 

To make matters even worse, this serves as a multiplier to the climate injustice that the Dumagats are already facing. Due to the already existing climate change, the Tinipak River suffers lower water level  during dry-season, yet, it rises extremely when hit by a typhoon such as in the case of Bagyong Ulysses in the past year. Scientifically, the higher the heat index during the dry season increases evaporation rates explaining the low water level. On the other hand, during the wet season, this high surface temperature increases the amount of precipitation, increasing the amount of water to rainfall as experienced by the people of Daraitan.

Furthermore, being farmers, the Dumagats are highly-dependent on nature and climatic events. Irregular precipitation patterns and increase in temperature have made weather unpredictable. As a result, since their main commodity,  rice, is sensitive to climatic factors, they are forced to replace it with a more resilient crop such as sweet potato.

Due to human activities, their ancestral land suffers further environmental degradation. For instance, tree-logging activities in Mt. Daraitan made the soil quality deteriorate. This resulted in an observable decline in crop yield, from one pail to a hundred sacks back then, to getting only one pail in return today. Biodiversity is also observed to decline as habitat bats and snakes were disturbed due to human mobility. These are all attested by the IPs.

The aforementioned events clearly show the Dumagats are already experiencing climate injustice. Rather than fixing the situation for them, the focus of high politics is in the center. This is the very reason as to why the Indigenous peoples are pushed to the margin of the society. If this continues violation of Indigenous people’s rights and right to a balanced and healthful ecology, rights we the sovereign Filipinos are sworn to protect under Article II of the 1987 Constitution.

To reiterate, sustainability is intersectional. All social and humanitarian aspects should be included in the pursuit of true development. Instead of pushing through with this, the best take is to achieve a compromise that would allow economic stability without endangering the natural environment and the rights of the Indigenous peoples. 

Through an emotional message, one of the Dumagat leaders expressed that they are willing to share the waters of their land, as they were the ones blessed. However, the policy-makers need to heed them and consider the alternatives that they are willing to compromise.

Given its political implications, retracting this policy requires a strong political will from the current administration. Nonetheless, it is a must in order to achieve true sustainable development and climate justice. 

To end, I urge you to ask again. Should we proceed with the Kaliwa Dam project? If your answer is still yes, then it is fitting to say that the ultimate ramification of climate change is not the extinction of the entire humanity but the sheer dissolution of our humanity.

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This content was prepared by our news partner, VRITIMES. The opinions and the content published on this page are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Thailand Business News
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