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After the deluge, now what?

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A TYPICAL scene during last week’s monsoon flooding: Has government learned from “Ondoy”? MARIANNE BERMUDEZ

WIDE swath of Luzon under water: Metro Manila and other urban centers have been developed without urban planning and considerations for disaster prevention.

Last week’s heavy monsoon rains revived memories of “Ondoy” in 2009, which had broken records, with a month’s worth of rain falling in just six hours.

Although not a typhoon, the monsoon rains affected and displaced some two million people. The death toll was not as bad as “Ondoy’”s, but the humanitarian disaster it caused was just as grave.

Lifestyle interviewed urban planners, architects and other experts on the factors that could have caused the calamity and the measures needed to solve them so as to stave off its repeat in the near future.

Did government listen?

John Joseph T. Fernandez, dean, College of Architecture, University of Santo Tomas

 

When “Ondoy” hit Manila a few years back, it was a wake-up call to many Filipinos. I remember, after “Ondoy,” several forums were conducted looking for ways to avert another “Ondoy” in the future. I was even invited to a forum in Keio University, Tokyo, Japan, where I spoke on “Paradigm Shift on the Pedagogy of Architecture Education in Relation to Climate Change.” I was surprised to hear from several speakers from different continents expressing surprise at the increasing incidence of floods, which they said surpassed even previously highest recorded levels. Several questions were asked during the forum and they would usually boil down to one issue: “What was the condition of your drainage systems?” or “Would the flooding have happened if the drainage systems of the city were working?”

Honestly, I wasn’t sure. I do remember the tons of garbage piled up after the flooding,   clear evidence of poor solid-waste management which contributed to flooding. With all those fora, I believe a  solution must have been drawn.

The question is: Did the government listen?

Many local governments together with private groups started several cleaning of waterways in their cities. Relocation of many urban informal settlers has been done.

Education drives on proper garbage disposal have repeatedly been done. But unfortunately the Filipino has a very short memory and forgotten the lessons of “Ondoy,” becoming lax in implementing measures to quell flooding and check disasters.

The University of Santo Tomas has done its share by having its own waste-water-treatment plant and solid-waste management; it has a system of recycling rain water. It has also slowly adopted a no-polystyrene  policy in most of its buildings.

DECLARED a National Cultural Treasure and National Historical Landmark, the 401-year-old University of Santo Tomas, which went under water during the monsoon rains, hardly shows any sign of the ordeal it went through, as workers quickly clean up the campus. PHOTOS BY JOHN DANIEL J. HIRRO

The UST administration has tried several times to lessen the impact of flooding on campus. It recently elevated its road network to prevent floodwater from immediately entering the campus. It worked for a while until the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) started raising the roads around UST, making the campus a catchment area when the rain comes.

The UST administration has also adopted some policies with regard to ground-floor spaces on the campus. Slowly offices located on the ground floor have been moved to the next floor to avoid or lessen damage to property (files, records, equipment).

In a meeting, DPWH officials informed me they had presented to the university administrators a plan that would lessen the flooding inside the campus.

The approach is to build a huge underground cistern beneath the UST parade grounds with a size covering the entire field and several meters deep, which will collect rain water and eventually be pumped out to Manila Bay. Unfortunately the construction time is three years and the UST parade ground was recently declared a National Treasure.

Another approach suggested by some is that since most of the offices will be relocated to the second floor of the building, a covered walkway running throughout the campus connecting the building should be constructed, with its roof made of concrete; it will serve as elevated walkway during floods.

One must look at the flooding problem of Metro Manila as a whole to come up with a holistic solution. The approach of raising streets in the metro only displaces the water and does not really solve the problem.

President Aquino mentioned a few days ago that they had already a solution to the flooding problem of the metro. The next question is, How much, and how long?

I hope the solution is permanent and it will not take too long to implement. Meantime, as we wait for the solution, we have to adapt to the situation, further strengthening the resiliency of the Filipino.

Let’s learn from history

Nico Manalo, architect and project director, Escuela Taller

My two cents’ worth is that we should learn lessons from history.

First: There had been urban plans before that discussed the matter, so we have to see that the zoning and easements from that time are still applicable today.

Second: Flood-prone areas will always stay that way—that’s why old planners and builders looked for higher elevations.

Third: If you are told to evacuate and you don’t, you should be considered a criminal for endangering more lives and adding to bad statistics.

Slapdash urban planning compounds disaster

Felino Palafox Jr., architect; founder and managing partner, Palafox and Associates

Despite very destructive earthquakes, typhoons, floods, fire, volcanic eruptions, landslides, and rising water levels due to climate change, our cities, towns, and communities have been developed without urban planning, architecture, engineering, and other considerations for disaster prevention. This has led to a development that makes our communities, towns and cities highly vulnerable to disasters, as can be seen in the growth of urban areas where houses and buildings are built closer together; the lack or absence of open spaces; and the ubiquity of storage facilities for dangerous substances.

The wide use of natural propane gases and kerosene stoves has, and with the increase of high-rise buildings, large-scale underground shopping, poorly built public schools and hospitals, and automobile traffic, aggravated the potential dangers.

If Metro Manila and other cities are to be made less vulnerable to disasters, it is necessary not only to make the buildings safer, earthquake-resistant, flood-proof and fireproof, but also to improve the roads, open spaces, and parks that can prevent the spread of fire, while at the same time raise government’s—and citizen’s—preparedness for disasters.

Furthermore, in the basins of creeks, canals, rivers, lakes and other bodies of water, urbanization has caused the lowering of the areas’ water-holding capacities, and the resulting increase in the amount of rainwater, mud and garbage flowing directly into these waterways has increased flood damages.

In addition to the improvement of these waterways, it will be necessary to prevent floods by implementing extensive measures to control the flow of rainwater, mud and garbage into them.

In 2009, with Dutch architect Daniel Roos, we forwarded to then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her Cabinet the following recommendations in the light of recent disastrous floods:

1. Build the spillway from Laguna Lake to Manila Bay.

2. Clear all rivers, esteros, waterways and lakes.

3. Relocate people to higher ground.

4. Establish hundred-year flood lines.

Control development in areas liable to flooding.

Build higher than hundred-year flood line and consider rising water levels due to climate change.

Build elevated walkways, sky bridges, connecting buildings above flood waters.

5. Implement solid-waste management

6. Update the 1905 Burnham Plan; 1976-77 Metro Manila Plan; and 2003 Manila Megalopolis Concept Plan 2020.

7. Formulate flood-control master plan.

8. Formulate drainage master plan.

9. Formulate sewerage master plan.

10. Implement pollution-abatement measures.

11. Reforest the hills and mountains.

12. Revise subdivision regulations and other laws and restrictions.

13. Revise, review and update Building Code, Structural Code and other laws.

14. Review Urban Metropolitan Management. (There are too many overlapping functions among agencies—local, metropolitan, regional and national agencies.)

15. Build road dikes round Laguna Lake.

16. Create “green islands.”

17. Come up with hazard mapping for earthquakes, floods, fire and other hazards.

18. Enforce the 10-meter easement rule along rivers and lakes and 3.5-meter easement rule along creeks and estero.

19. Implement urban planning and rules on land use, zoning, transport, infrastructure, location, density, type and timing of development.

20. Upgrade engineering (flood control, drainage, sewerage, water supply, power supply, telecommunications, garbage, sanitation and traffic).

21. Upgrade architecture (buildings must be flood-proof). Harvest rain water through cisterns and water-retention ponds.

22. Provide funding for planning, design, construction, management and maintenance of buildings and infrastructures.

23. Need for vision and political will. Vision is needed to undertake a comprehensive plan, and political will is needed to undertake the plan.

(The recommendations have been submitted to President Aquino.)

The events that recently transpired in our city and neighboring provinces is a wake-up call to the emerging havoc nature has in store to a hapless and helpless city like Metropolitan Manila.

Is nature to be blamed, or are we? What are the issues that concern us here? Firstly, nature is nature; it will follow its natural course. As we are in a tropical country where severe weather is a natural phenomenon rain and storms will come and go.

As most people interviewed stated, they are used to the rains and the floods, even though the waters are chest-deep and in some cases up-to-the roofs. As we cannot control nature, we should then control and look at the actions of man. There are various observations that need to be addressed here, and, sadly, some of these are very sensitive issues.

Why was there widespread flooding and misery?

Manuel Maximo Lopez del Castillo Noche, architecture historian; assistant professor, UST College of Architecture

Majority of those displaced by the floods belong to the urban poor.  Because they are poor, they suffered the most. The poor sadly live in dangerous areas where chances of flooding, landslides and others are ripe.

Where else can the poor live but in areas that the wealthy would not want to? These would be beside creeks, in trash areas, contaminated land, flood-prone areas and danger zones.

Relocation sites are being offered them, but there’s a catch: They have to pay a minimum amount to settle and eventually own the property. But why would they pay when they are living in slums virtually free? Added to this is the distance of the relocation sites from industries and cities where they make a living.

The urban poor do not have basic utilities. They dump everything and anything into rivers and streams. With a light weather change, a naturally flowing brook turns into a torrent. And that was what we saw.  Tons of trash accumulated on our vanishing estero. But where else can the poor go but in areas like estero that are dangerous?

About UST and what can be done to prevent flooding, there’s really a need to coordinate with DPWH.

UST should have protested the elevation of Forbes, Noval and Dapitan streets by a meter. The construction made UST a catch basin.

Flooding will be unavoidable, sadly, as Sampaloc District used to be a swamp. We can only mitigate flooding.

An expensive endeavor is to provide a dike system around the campus and a pumping system to throw or divert water accumulated to the drainage mains outside.


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Tags: Floods , Urban Planning , Weather

  • richard butac

    flooding = unabated development = environmental damage = improper waste management = poverty = overpopulation = correct politics

  • 2011Empoy1120

    ….the only natural occurence where poor, middle class and priveledge few were affected all at the same time, I hope the government has a long and short term solution to address this issue but I doubt it….after this latest flooding, politicos will just simply slide back again to their old ways and over indulge once again themselves to cha-cha, aftering GMA ill-gotten wealth, RH Bill, prosecuting corrupt officials and never-ending debate in the senate and congress until the next deluge again…kailangan kaya tayo magigising sa pansitan, pinas!

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/ZGZSRMYGSMFCWI2BXJA5IWRCPY Benedicto

    Things are likely to get worse for UST and its environs if and when the DPWH pushes through with its plan to build a flyover at the intersection of Forbes and Espana. The simpletons at the DPWH consider building flyovers as ultimate traffic solution. Definitely it’s more profitable. Who cares about heritage sites?

  • TheSmilingBandit

    So basically, overpopulation drives our poor to the slums where they make more babies driving even more people below the poverty level ad infinatum, now there is a case for the RH Bill to be passed.

  • kwatogito

    “If you are told to evacuate and you don’t, you should be considered a criminal for endangering more lives and adding to bad statistics.”  – This must be the stupidest thing I’ve heard…I mean dumb.  Seriously?  Really?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AHXXSHY4F2ZXT5L2UGYU5JVALE Tomas

    the pro-rh lobby should check themselves. only last week they were taking to task some anti-rh comments regarding the flooding allegedly as god’s way of manifesting displeasure over the rh bill being railroaded in the house of reps. but the pro-rh people don’t seem to be aware that they’re making basically adopting the same logic when they blame overpopulation for the flooding. hello! isn’t it obvious that the poor are the victims of floods and disasters which are the results of mismanagement and corruption.
    why do the urban poor stay in flood-prone areas. eh kasi walang social housing. iyong housing for funding binibigay allegedly sa developers like delfin lee and globe asiatique. 
    the pro-rh people, by blaming then poor and their overpopulation, confirms the pro-life position that rh is a social engineering measure. it’s anti-poor: it’s not meant to provide for the poor’s basic needs of food, clothing and SHELTER. it’s there to splay or neuter the poor/
    it’s the same logic as p-noy in his sona who called for “responsible parenthood” (his twisted shorthad for RH) to stop the alleged backlog in education: in short, he’s blaming again the poor and their “overpopulation” and their “irresponsibility” for producing children who would put pressure on education! hindi sinabi ni pinoy na philippine poverty is the result of social iniquity, like political dynasties like the aquinos, cayetanos etc. making business out of govt and politics. the constitution says protection of life will be from conception, pero heto itong p-noy and congress rushing rh which is pro-contraceptive and pro-abortifacient. the same constitution says congress should pass a law to enable the ban against political dynasties. pero wala maski isang bill against dynasties. the philippines has an overpopulation of political dynasties pero pinagdidiskitahan ng burgis at elitista eh iyong mahihirap at their alleged overpopulation!
    hey, rh fanatics, shame on you!

    • maharlika27

      Floods and rains are all for cleansing process of individual heart. I pray and hope that everybody will be cleaned up from his/her wrong doings. Evrything has the reason..Time will come we will understand all these things why it happens..When a man understands this, he should not regret but will express his gratitude depends on how he accept the message of the Truth. Just pray to open your heart and believe the message.



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