[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Friday, 17 February 2006, 16:35 GMT
What caused Philippines landslide?
By Sarah Buckley
BBC News

Landslides, such as the one which has buried an entire community in the central Philippines, are often blamed on logging.

In this television grab shows a Philippines villager (R) comforting a victim after a landslide that covered an entire village in Leyte, 17 February 2006
The landslide buried an entire community

This is because forest cover can play a vital role in maintaining land stability - both by absorbing the rain that can cause it to slip, and by securing soil and other vegetable matter to the bedrock with tree roots.

"Loss of forest cover does have a serious impact," said Beatrice Richards, head of forest trade and policy at the WWF.

Logging was blamed for a similar disaster in December 2003, and Philippines President Gloria Arroyo banned logging in December 2004.

Hugh Speechly, a forestry consultant who lived in the Philippines for 12 years, said that in fact much of the logging in the country had already taken place.

"The Philippines has gone from a major timber producing country to one where they import timber," he said, adding that in the 1930s, before it began serious logging, the nation had several million hectares of forest cover, compared with only about 600,000 untouched hectares today.

This sort of rainfall and landslide action in the Philippines at this time of year is quite unusual
Dave Petley, International Landslide Centre

"Certainly in Leyte, a lot of the forest cover has gone," he said.

"Because of population pressures, people push more into the upland areas to grow food and to do this they clear land."

In the case of Friday's events in Guinsaugon, Southern Leyte province, it seemed unlikely that logging was to blame.

Local officials and eyewitnesses said the surrounding area was well forested, and the governor's office said deforestation was not the causal factor this time, despite having admitted that was the case in a devastating landslide in Leyte in December 2003.

But Philippines Congressman Roger Mercado, who represents Southern Leyte, has blamed the disaster, to some extent, on mining and logging in the area three decades ago, Reuters news agency reported.


What experts did agree on was the probable impact of heavy rain in the area for up to two weeks before the landslide.

"All these extreme disasters are multicausal but there's usually some single trigger at the last minute," said Hazel Faulkner, senior research fellow at the Flood Hazard Research Centre at Middlesex University, London.

Edward Alan O'Lenic, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Prediction Center, Feb. 2, 2006.
La Nina is thought to have taken hold in 2006
The area received about 200cm of rain in the last 10 days, officials said.

Heavy rain storms are frequent in the Philippines, and was also thought to be the trigger for the December 2003 landslide.

But Mr Speechly said he was surprised by such weather in February.

He said that severe storms normally ran between June and December.

Prof Dave Petley, professor at the International Landslide Centre, Durham University, agreed. "This sort of rainfall and landslide action in the Philippines at this time of year is quite unusual," he said.

The Philippines weather bureau has said adverse conditions since November might be linked to La Nina - a natural cyclical meteorological phenomenon which strikes South East Asia in certain years, bringing heavy rainfall.

Dec 2004 About 1,800 people killed after a series of storms in north-eastern Philippines
Dec 2003 Up to 200 people die in landslides in Southern Leyte
Nov 1991 Typhoon Thelma strikes Leyte causing floods that drown at least 5,000
Prof Petley said the landslide statistics in the region this year suggested 2006 was a La Nina year.

The month of January in a typical year would normally see 60 landslide deaths worldwide, whereas January this year saw 283 landslide fatalities, many in Asia, he said.

A mild 2.6 magnitude earthquake which struck the area just before the landslip may also have contributed to it, although it did not appear strong enough to have triggered it on its own, experts said.

"The area could have really been ready for a landslide because of the amount of rainfall and if there was a minor earthquake, it might have hastened it," Rene Solidum, head of the Philippines government vulcanology office told reporters.

Another contributory factor could have been coconut trees in the area, which have only shallow roots, the daughter of Governor Rosette Lerias told the BBC.

Ms Faulkner said she did not know the exact impact of such a crop on the area.

But she said that it could be argued that a more shallowly rooted tree would not be as effective at counteracting the gravitational pull of the rainfall, and yet would contribute to the weight on a slope.


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific