The Butuanon River: A Brief History
From Trade To Trash
Long ago, during precolonial Philippines, the Butuanon River in the Island of Cebu was used for agriculture and transportation. The river acted as a filter for waste, and was the major supplier of water for farms and livestock around the area. It was a waterway that served as a means of trade in the island. Villages along the river saw plenty of rice, cotton, swine, fowl, wax and honey and many other commodities.
The 23-kilometer river is nestled between the Cities of Mandaue and Cebu. It originates from the upper mountains of Cebu City, then flows through Mandaue City, and eventually opens out to the Mactan Channel. It has been utilized for washing laundry, bathing, drinking, and for supporting agriculture.
But up until 30 years ago the river has seen a drastic change. It went from a river that was pristine, used for chores and providing food sources through fish, to being biologically dead and considered to be one of the most polluted rivers in the Philippines. What was once blue and sparkling with color, had become black and dull with waste.
In 1992 the Butuanon River was declared dead.
During this time the population of the Metro Cebu skyrocketed over the span of a few decades. This increase in people, compounded with a lack of oversight of waste disposal, have led to the degradation of the river. So from a river that once ferried food and goods, it became what most people feared: an unending flow of empty plastic bottles, styrofoam cups and plastic bags to our ocean.
One of the main causes for the deterioration of the river was that during this time subdivisions in Cebu City started mushrooming, while factories in Mandaue City kept popping up non-stop. Another cause was the lack of manpower from government agencies to monitor the environmental compliance of the businesses and subdivisions.
In 1996, the Mandaue City Government, fearing the further degradation of the river, sought out the United States Asia Environmental Partnership (USAEP) to create an organization to oversee the health of the river and its watershed. It resulted in the creation of the Butuanon River Watershed Management Board. A board tasked with overseeing the health of the river and was responsible for creating policies to protect it.
But over 20 years later the river has seen little improvement.
What does this mean?
Other than the fact that government agencies lack the manpower to monitor industries and individuals to keep them from dumping into the river, both public and private sectors continued to be main factors of why Butuanon River died. Subdivisions continued to dispose household waste and so did most of the factories.
History and people have not been kind to the Butuanon. In recent years, the pollution of the river has increased exponentially. As businesses competed against each other and looked for ways to lessen spending, they dump their waste into the river. A number of these businesses lack the necessary waste treatment facilities, which forces them to dump into the river. But all is not lost, as the City of Mandaue made a bold move by enacting policies that help both the residents and the river.
It is still possible to save the Butuanon River from total decay.
In 2015 the river was considered “25-percent rehabilitated.” With the introduction of policies that promote the protection of the river, the Butuanon has seen a significant recovery. Although some people still think it’s a hopeless cause, certain members of government and the common folk came together believing that the Butuanon River can be saved.
In order for us to help, let us be aware of where our waste ends up. We should also remind our government institutions of the importance health rivers. Let’s inform our neighbors and friends of the benefits of a healthy river and the consequences of a dead one. If we continue on this course of rehabilitation and restoration we can save the river!