The Wonders of Bicol River
The Wonders of Bicol River

The Bicol River is the biggest waterway in Camarines Sur (Figure 1). Throughout history it played a major role in the growth of at least 14 municipalities and one city either as a source of livelihood, transportation route or source of domestic and irrigation water. The importance of the Bicol River grew over the years from its traditional role as an economic resource to a critical role in the balance of ecology and mitigation of the impacts of climate change.

The Bicol River is also a vast wetland ecosystem that supports a rich array of biodiversity that provides economic benefits to people living along and within the floodplains of the river. The natural attributes also present a promise for ecotourism, which can bring additional income to the people and revenues for the local government unit. The ecotourism potential can be numerous depending on the area and type of activities to be promoted for the enjoyment and satisfaction of tourists and visitors. But the overexploitation of the resources, the introduction of exotic species, and the unsustainable activities of the constantly growing population have severely degraded the entire Bicol River ecosystem. Numerous accounts of lower and smaller catches by subsistence fishermen indicate that the Bicol River has been overfished to a critical level and the lack of a program for protecting riverbanks is causing the loss of terrestrial components to erosion and endangering the lives of riverine communities. Adding to the degradation is the practice of many people to dump their garbage into the Bicol River increasing pollution and solidifying its reputation as the biggest garbage dump in Camarines Sur.

For many years the Bicol River has contributed in alleviating the effects of flooding brought by adverse climatic phenomena. However, compared to three decades ago, the weather today is more unpredictable and floods and landslides are always expected every time there are typhoons or strong monsoon rains. The disruption in weather patterns as a result of global climate change has affected the lives of thousands of families living along the Bicol River. Because of its vastness, the Bicol River plays a critical role in mitigating the incidence of flooding by accommodating the excess volume of water. In this context, the Bicol River is very relevant and indispensable to any disaster risk reduction strategies in the province and must be managed accordingly.

Containing flooding is one of the reasons the Bicol River Basin Development Project (BRBDP) was conceptualized. Since the 1930s, the concept of river basins has been used for development planning and management and various river basin projects and programs have been implemented in many countries including the Philippines. In Camarines Sur, the BRBDP is the biggest project of its kind ever implemented. When began in 1973, the BRBDP was a six-year development project to pilot a comprehensive program on natural resource management under the framework of integrated area development. The project applied an integrated river basin and watershed management as a strategy to achieve the objectives. Yet, even with its scope, funding and duration, the BRBDP has not succeeded in instituting a natural resource management regime because it was primarily designed as an engineering project.

Recognizing the many problems and issues affecting the Bicol River, the Provincial Government has proposed a Bicol River Conservation and Management Program (BRCMP) as an integrated strategy to address the complex concerns on the ecological, physical, social, economic, and political constituents of the biggest river system in the province. At this stage, it is not yet possible to determine the scope of the BRRMP and assess the basis of its conservation and management regime. Essential data are still being gathered through baseline research and as long as the parameters are properly identified and described the capacity of the BRCMP to address the chronic problems affecting the Bicol River will be guaranteed. The present report presents only the results of the biophysical assessment and the outputs of the rapid resource appraisal. By directly working with communities, the RRA is able to gather and validate at the same time the information such as the actual number of settlements along the Bicol River, the status of socio-economic activities, local uses of biodiversity, identifying families who are most at risk from the disturbance and degradation of the Bicol River, and document specific areas of high cultural and heritage significance. The data presented in this report will provide sound basis for designing the comprehensive program for the conservation and management of the Bicol River. Moreover, the information generated from the baseline studies will be vital input to the general resources profile of Camarines Sur.

Bicol River

The Bicol River is the eighth largest river in the Philippines in terms of drainage basin size with an estimated catchment area of 3,770 km²

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