Floods of discontent

ariel nepomuceno_1IN Metro Manila, when it rains, it does not only pour. On the contrary, the result is massive flooding…big time.

The fast and widespread urbanization of Metro Manila and its environs, coupled with the sad reality of its natural topography, pose a challenge to how this country can manage the crippling effects of floods to its development goals.

Maring, Ondoy, Sendong, Pepeng and all the rains these typhoons brought, paralyzed the entire metropolis with work and school unceremoniously halted, government services impeded, public and private transport at a literal standstill due to traffic, productivity decreased,  not to mention the huge damage to property and senseless loss of  lives.

Cause of perennial floods

Many studies have already revealed the primary causes of massive urban flooding in Metro Manila.  Location wise, it  lies in the catch basin between Laguna Lake in the southeast and Manila Bay in the north, with two major water systems—Pasig and Marikina—plus the tributaries flowing amid it.

In the early 1990s up to 2000, land development plans envisioned big open spaces dedicated for watersheds and parks, particularly in those areas that were designated as flood-prone. These were meant to offset the possibility of rain water coming from  the uplands which have undergone considerable deforestation. Unfortunately, the sheer number of residential and commercial developments, like subdivisions, malls, shops and other establishments, have swallowed all these green spaces.

Gone are the rice fields, grasslands and meadows and what we have are sprawling urban centers —jungles of concrete in the literal sense. On the other hand, our drainage systems, esteros and waterways are decreasing so fast due to proliferation of informal settlers who are not known for sound solid-waste management practices. Garbage disposal is also a constant problem.

More important, Metro Manila is also home to some 13 million people and the numbers are still growing.  Sadly, we are now harvesting the fruits of a sordid lack of good urban planning.

And the politics is not helping.


ON May 27, 2010, the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management law was signed. This paved the way for the creation of a National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Framework and a National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Plan.  While it appears that the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council has basic responsibility for management of flood risks,  it is clear that it cannot do this alone without proper coordination with and support from other  agencies and units within the government like the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, Department of Science and Technology,  Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of Transportation and Communications, Department of Social Welfare and Development, and the Department of the Interior and Local Government  plus local government unit chiefs.

But, oftentimes, jurisdictional squabbles, plus funding issues between these diverse groups, do not solve our problems  and they hardly offer quick solutions for the public when the onslaught of floods occur. Perhaps, a flood tsar of sorts must be appointed to act as the captain ball like the role being successfully played by Secretary Rene Almendras in decongesting our ports and now, the traffic mess.

That urban flooding is a serious and growing development challenge for countries in East Asia, including the Philippines, was emphasized in a World Bank guidebook entitled Cities and Flooding: A Guide to Integrated Urban Flood Risk Management for the 21st Century. According to the guidebook, the most effective way to manage flood risk is to take an integrated approach which combines both structural and nonstructural measures. These include: a) creating flood-warning systems, b) good land-use planning; c) building floodways and drainage systems; d)  urban  greening.

In 2012 the government approved  a 25-year Metro Manila Flood Management Master Plan which was  funded by a $1.5-million grant from the World Bank-administered Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) Trust Fund. The grant was provided by the GFDRR using funds  by the Government of Australia through the Australian Agency for International Development. GFDRR is a partnership of 32 countries and six international organizations committed to help developing countries reduce their vulnerability to natural hazards and adapt to climate change.

This is in addition to the earlier initiative by the World Bank when it announced way back in 2011 the  immediate release of $500 million to assist the Philippine government’s recovery and reconstruction efforts in the wake of Sendong, which devastated huge parts of the country in December 2011.

With all the help coming from foreign countries, international organizations and benevolent, well-meaning  corporations and individuals, both here and abroad,  the hardships and challenges that come with floods and natural calamities can be met and managed by the country if all these forms of support be harnessed in an efficient, effective and appropriate way by both the national government, by showing political will, and by the citizenry, by  cooperating  and taking to heart the lessons learned from these natural calamities.

From floods of discontent to floods of abundance. There we should move.



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