Decades of Illegal Logging Blamed for High Death Toll in Philippine Storm
MANILA, Philippines − President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on Wednesday ordered the military and police to crack down on illegal logging, after flash floods and landslides triggered by rampant deforestation killed nearly 340 people this week.
"Illegal logging must now be placed in the order of most serious crimes against our people," Arroyo said in a statement. "The series of landslides and flash floods that hit several parts of the country should serve as a wake-up call for us to join hands in preserving and stepping up reforestation."
At least 150 others were missing and feared dead after a powerful storm triggered landslides and flash floods in the country's east Tuesday, after a typhoon ravaged the same area last week.
Decades of illegal logging have made floods in the Philippines deadlier, loosening the soil of denuded mountains and triggering devastating landslides. Officials said many of the victims in the latest storm died after being washed away by swiftly cascading soil and logs late Monday, when most were asleep.
A recent U.S.-funded project concluded that the Philippines was losing more than 100,000 hectares (247,100 acres) of forest every year. Other experts say less than 3 percent of the country's primary forest remains intact.
The government's chief weather forecaster, Frisco Nilo, said the soil in the foothills of Sierra Madre, facing the Pacific Ocean, was already saturated with water from the previous typhoon when heavy rains loosened the earth and caused it to tumble down.
Environment Secretary Michael Defensor promised an investigation into illegal logging.
"We have been criticizing illegal logging for a long time. We should not have waited for a tragedy like this," Vice President Noli de Castro said in a statement.
He lamented that people have not learned from 1991 floods, which were aggravated by logging and killed about 6,000 in the central province of Southern Leyte.
Source: Associated Press