Putting Flood Risk on the Map: Fieldwork Reflections from the Philippines

Putting Flood Risk on the Map: Fieldwork Reflections from the Philippines

This blog post comes from three of our undergraduate honours students, Benjamin Bannon (top left), Luke Calo (top right), and Lay Shien See (bottom left), who are researching flood risk reduction in the Philippines.


Carigara is a municipality located in the province of Leyte in the Philippines, home to a population of more than 50,000. It is a lively and vibrant town surrounded by green paddy fields and under beautiful mountains. Like many places in the Philippines however, flooding has been a persistent issue, hampering local development efforts.

Our thesis research aims to model local flooding in Carigara and propose appropriate mitigation measures. This past June, our team travelled to Carigara for a 3-week fieldwork trip to collect data required for our modelling and analysis.

Our time in Carigara started with a warm welcoming party accompanied with an endless supply of marasa (delicious) local food. Everyone accepted us with kind and welcoming gestures, providing their upmost support from the very beginning. We worked closely with the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (MDRRMO), from which we received support and assistance throughout the course of our trip.

Fieldwork surveys

Our fieldwork activity was divided into two main components: elevation and drainage surveys. The elevation survey was conducted by Ben and Luke with the help of traffic control from barangay tanods (area police officers). This elevation data focused on the Poblacion (urban) area of Carigara. The elevation data was then used to create a digital elevation model (DEM) in Quantum Geographical Information System (QGIS) that would present accurate contour maps of the surveyed area.

Ben and Luke conducting elevation surveys in one of the barangays.

Our drainage survey was led by Sheryn along with a team of local staff from the MDRRMO. The dimension, physical condition and surface lining of each drainage was measured and recorded during the survey. The collected findings were then digitalized using OpenStreetMap (OSM) to produce detailed drainage maps in QGIS showing different characteristics of the existing drainage.

Sheryn conducting drainage survey with the MDRRMO team.

The contour maps we produced from the elevation survey helped us examine stormwater flows while the drainage maps easily highlighted areas with inadequate drainage infrastructure and allowed us to conceptualise engineering solutions to reduce flood impacts. Despite having a wide drainage network throughout the municipality, poor stormwater design is one of the main reasons for flooding. The information we gathered from our fieldwork will contribute in creating a new master drainage plan for future urban planning to ensure stormwater is transported effectively.

Preliminary elevation map of Carigara.

Transferring our knowledge and skills

We also conducted a training workshop with the MDRRMO and the Municipal Engineering Office of Carigara. The aim of this training was to reinforce concepts and further build surveying and mapping software skills to local staff. The workshop began with a surveying practice session along some of the streets in the Poblacion (urban) area. The team was then taken through the process of inserting all recorded data into OSM and QGIS as well as the engineering concepts behind the surveying work. Training manuals and software tutorial handbooks were handed over to the MDRRMO at the end of the workshop for future use of the local staff.

Local MDRRMO staff and engineer learning how to conduct elevation survey.

Opening up about our personal experience…

Throughout the three weeks we spent in Carigara, we gained significant real-life engineering experience. Aside from grasping the technical skills of using mapping software, it was also important for us to plan our schedules ahead and delegate tasks among our team and the local staff within a tight time frame. It was also a challenging experience working across cultures. For example, we were required to conduct a “courtesy call” with each barangay (community) captain before carrying out work. While time consuming, this enabled support and cooperation for our surveying work from the barangay officials.

Learning the language proved to be quite challenging at times as well, particularly when under pressure. When we first arrived, we made sure to rehearse our greetings in Waray (the local language) many times before delivering our introductions to the municipality. However, we realized we might have over-rehearsed the same phrase, as when it was Ben’s turn to speak, he made the mistake of saying “Maupay nga aga, ako hi Luke” which translates to “Good morning, my name is Luke” in front of the entire municipality. Thankfully the community were kind enough to give us a good laugh and encouraged us to carry on.

A bittersweet moment bidding farewell with the MDRRMO staff.

We hope the engineering work we achieved over these three weeks will play a part in reducing flood risks in Carigara. We are excited to continue on our research of flood modelling until the end of the year to provide recommended infrastructure drainage solutions to the local community. We envision a future Carigara that remains the beautiful town we all know, more resilient to flood-related hazards.

Our tired (but happy) faces after touching down in Sydney Airport.

Interested in learning more about Ben, Luke, and Sheryn’s research? Follow our lab on Facebook to receive updates about their results or follow our blog to stay up to date.

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