Facing up to nature: Are we up to it?

When will we step up to squarely facing the challenge of overcoming what has tormented us for the longest time? Thousands of Filipino lives have been lost and millions of dollars in property damage sustained as a result of disasters caused by weather disturbances common in the region. Much of what contributes to the devastation is the result of years of neglect and lack of foresight. Measures need to be taken now to reduce the impact to lives and property of future natural calamities. Rather than see ourselves as helpless victims of the forces of nature, we need to appreciate that there are significant components of the problem that are man-made and therefore potentially solvable.

The following diagram illustrates the key points where careless human activity contributes to exacerbating the destruction wreaked by the many cyclones and bouts of torrential rains that visit the Philippines every year.

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Denuded forests fail to trap rainwater.

As a result, downflow from the highlands during heavy rains is torrential and further erodes the already degraded landscape. Furthermore, this erosion results in sediment getting continually dumped into rivers and waterways further reducing their capacity to drain stormwater in times of heavy rain.

What were once floodplains have been developed for dense human habitation.

Felino Palafox Jr, who is a leading architect in Manila and long-time environmental “crusader” had his views on the recent flooding disaster brought about by typhoon Ondoy reported by the ManilaTimes.net:

Palafox said a 1977 World Bank-funded study identified Marikina Valley, the western shores of Laguna de Bay, and the Manila Bay coastal area as those where disaster preparedness should be done. There development should be restricted and proceed only when certain protective measures have been taken. That is because these locations are threatened with disastrous flooding, earthquakes and possible changes in topography.

Various recommendations to build floodways and spillways to support high-risk areas were never heeded by Metro Manila’s urban planners. Much of the property development along flood-prone areas should not have been undertaken to begin with.

Both storm water and raw sewage feed into waterways that are clogged with garbage and other solid residential and industrial waste.

A joint study conducted in 1998 by the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) forecast the volume of waste generated by Metro Manila will double between 2010 and 2020. This means that this is an issue that will not only not go away, it will get worse unless:

– Attitudes towards garbage disposal change; and,
– Waste management systems are improved.

Amando Doronilla in an eyewitness account of the destruction left by floods in the wake of cyclone Ondoy observed as he toured Quezon City after some of the water had subsided:

On Rodriguez Avenue, for example, there were walls of garbage swept by the floods. The canals and esteros that crossed underneath the avenue were swollen with garbage to their banks. This debris did not come from climate change. The mountain of rubbish was discharged by human hands—over many generations

Even if flash floods don’t kill Metro Manilans, pollution and the destruction of food fish populations in lakes and rivers surrounding and lacing the city will. Many urban poor communities depend on these both directly for food and indirectly as trading commodities.

Limited road access to urban poor communities and gated subdivisions hamper relief operations in times of calamity.

Many residential enclaves implement security measures that severely limit public access. Each “subdivision” maintains separate feeder roads into main roads traversed by public vehicles and non-residents but have no alternative routes (through roads) that cut through them and bypass the usually traffic-congested main arteries.

Rather than building walls in between ourselves, we should be tearing them down and moving towards a more open society with a sense of civic duty that extends beyond our immediate families, clans, and “village associations”.

Emergency services are not coordinated and are staffed by inadequately trained and equipped personnel.

Greg Bankoff in Cultures of disaster: society and natural hazard in the Philippines (Routledge, 2003) concluded how generally inadequate emergency preparedness in the Philippines is, citing lack of expertise in management, coordination and responsiveness as key weaknesses. The sorry state of the services was clearly evident in the aftermath of a major earthquake that devastated the city of Baguio in 1990. Bankoff writes:

[…] many affected areas were left without adequate assistance in spite of the tremendous public response, the convergence of volunteer and rescue teams from all over the nation, and the donation of considerable amounts ofn food. Some people remained buried in buildings and landslides for over a week, while food shortages resulted from transportation mismanagement.

Indeed, the response of government services to the Ondoy disaster today failed to demonstrate any form of improvement since 1990 as Doronilla now observes:

From the first hours of the flood, the government failed to exist. The army and police were caught off-guard. They ran out of inflated rubber boats to rescue people stranded in their homes or carried away by floodwaters.

Philippines  Flooding

It’s time we see our vulnerability to natural calamities as a system of contributing factors. It is only when we approach solving the problem of chronic flooding with holistic and systemic solutions that sustainable improvements in our quality of life will be achieved. An important aspect of this resolve is ensuring that our future leaders are up to the task.

About benign0

benign0 is the Web master of GetRealPhilippines.com
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13 Responses to Facing up to nature: Are we up to it?

  1. Bayanihan says:

    Are we up to it?

    YES! The Filipino Can!

    Check the blogs, the tweets, and youtube.

    The people are united!

  2. Parallax says:

    Yes, the Filipino can!
    It’s just that for most of the year every year, the Filipino won’t.

    Can you spell S-A-L-A-U-L-A?

    • Bayanihan says:

      So are you telling me that in this time of unity and bayanihan, you remain cynical and cast your negativity upon us people who wish to make a difference?

      Who is the Anti-Pinoy now?

      • Parallax says:

        No I’m not telling you that in this time of unity and bayanihan I remain cynical and cast my negativity upon people who wish to make a difference. Read what I said again.

        I told you that for most of the year every year, the Filipino can, but won’t.
        The Anti-Pinoy is the one who remains blind to this fact.

        Don’t just address symptoms of Pinoy problems. Acknowledge and address the causes!

    • benign0 says:

      It depends on what kind of “difference” one wants to make. Is it a difference that will result in a sustainable change over the long term? Or is it a difference that will alleviate symptoms but not necessarily cure the underlying affliction?

  3. benign0 says:

    Randy David described quite well what he calls our tendency to apply the “private solution to a collective problem”:

    The well-off among us who live in posh but flood-prone communities may, of course, decide that what they need most to acquire right away is a sturdy collapsible rubber dinghy for use in emergencies. If that were all the wisdom we could draw from this experience, then the gift would have been wasted. This private solution to a collective problem is ultimately as self-defeating as the purchase of individual generator sets in a time of recurrent power interruptions, or the installation of household booster pumps in a time of weak water pressure. They conceal from us the complex picture in which the problem is embedded. Yet, it is no longer surprising to encounter these limited solutions in a society where privately owned vehicles endlessly proliferate in the absence of an efficient public transportation system. All of these are private adaptations to situations requiring a long-term societal response.

  4. uncle pinoy says:

    Very informative, benign0. I agree with your diagnosis of the chronic flooding problem. Just one question, in your research, did you find any concrete recommendations re the building of floodways in MM; or if there were any proposed legislation addressing floodways?

    Added commentary: This is what government should be doing instead of trying to add a 9th sun-ray to the flag or watching Hayden Kho videos. Government is often distracted by the “burning issues of the day” that it gets its priorities all whacked up. And because our government has very limited financial resources, its main and obvious functions (national security-disaster relief, economic policies, law enforcement, tax collection, and infrastructure) are neglected. Hence, the money to buy rubber boats were spent on Senate hearings to find out who posted sex tapes on the internet and to look “pogi” for the newspapers! It is partly our fault, too, because we encouraged this wastage.

    Tell Congress to stop wasting our money!

    • benign0 says:

      If I recall right, there was mention of two or three floodways or spillways that were in the masterplan that have not been built. I don’t know if there is legislation involved but they seem to have been in a JICA-assisted study conducted in the early or mid-90’s I think.

      As for the priorities of government, well, infrastructure projects like these are huge and involve implementation timeframes that span more than one administration. That’s probably the reason why these tend to take a backseat to matters more “pressing” to politicians who are under pressure while in office to re-coup their campaign expenses and ensure they get re-elected.

  5. benign0 says:

    Typhoon Na Naman
    O Kay tulin ng araw
    Typhoonng nagdaan,
    Tila ba kung kailan lang
    Ngayon ay Typhoon,
    Dapat pasalamatan
    Ngayon ay Typhoon
    Tayo ay mag-awitan

    Typhoon! Typhoon!
    Typhoon na namang muli!
    Tanging araw na ating
    Typhoon! Typhoon!
    Typhoon na namang muli!
    Ang pag-i–big

  6. ulong pare says:

    … daang

    … devout katolickdicks padre damasos y prez buwangwang abnoy will deter any typhoon, earthquakes, fire&brimstones hitting flipland…thru the DEVINE POWER OF PRAYERS…

    … ay sus ginoo… allah ahkbar… ama namin… ave ginoong maria… santa corykot… santa ate glo… our father who thou art in heaven… ILIGTAS MO PO ANG MGA GUNG GONGGGGGGSSSS!!!! :mrgreen:

    … hay naku, mahina ang koleksyon noong nakaraang linggo… 😳

  7. Hyden Toro says:

    The imbecile President Noynoy Aquino never prepare the people on the coming Typhoons. He never lift a finger to remedy the situation. Typhoon season is just around the corner. The Squatters are still there, blocking the floodways of canals and esteros. He is looking the other way. Hoping a Typhoon stronger than the Typhoon Ondoy will never come.

    He is waiting for affordable housing projects to be built; to rellocate the Squatters. What a nonsense!

    • ulong pare says:

      … daaang

      … squats with their garbage act as human levies, flood barricades… :mrgreen:

      … to make squats useful and with proper management, they could be used as “hydro electric dam” to power up ‘tang inang imperial manila… squats multiply like kakroaches… no shortage bodies to plug holes.. 😳

      … after typhoon ondoy, ate glo&magnanakaws tossed/relocated ‘sang katutak na squats (mostly ‘bakwets from the south of ‘tang inang imperial manila) in my beloved pristine malagu-laguna…

      … ay sus ginoo… the land of lanzonez y buko pie no moh!!!

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