Monday, October 12, 2009

HERE AGAIN IS THE FLOOD: Still No Solution in Sight?

The El Niño - La Niña phenomenon, possibly the most significant climate event of the century, brought about severe drought in one extreme and massive flooding in the other throughout its area of significance. Today’s weather has become so erratic and unpredictable.
In the Philippines the rainy season brings weather disturbances like monsoons, coldfronts, depressions, storms and typhoons. And when we speak of these terms, we cannot help but add another one – flood.
Yes, flood, the Philippines’ foremost problem in terms of annual calamities that affects not only our daily lives but the country’s socio-economic flowchart as well: From the disruption of the common tao’s work, to the destruction of properties, to diseases and epidemics, to chaos and disorder, and to subsequent economic backlash.
Why do we have to suffer this misfortune every year? What is the cause of this incessant calamity? What is the government doing to solve the problem? Can we really eradicate or somehow minimize this calamity?

THE PERENNIAL PROBLEM The heavy rains that occurred on July 25-27, 1991 brought about by the southwest monsoon induced by typhoon Ising resulted in heavy and continuous downpour engulfed 90 percent of Metro Manila and its surrounding suburbs.
Nine years later, on July 2-8, 2000, typhoons Ditang and Edeng simultaneously brought heavy rains throughout Luzon causing extensive flooding. More than a week of rains in conjunction with two-meter high tide level again inundated 90 percent of Metro Manila. Several rivers and dams also overflowed causing floods in many parts of Northern and Central Luzon affecting more than a million people.
In September 26, 2009, Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) poured so much rains in Metro Manila and the surrounding provinces (an all time record of 455 millimeters in 24 hours) causing floods from one to six meters high that covered residential and subdivision houses, schools, and even hospitals in the area. Ondoy was followed by Typhoon Pepeng (Parma), this time devastating Northern and Central Luzon with deep floods and landslides. Everyone was caught unprepared including the government’s National Disaster Coordinating Council. The devastation of the floods and landslides brought about by the two typhoons rendered most of the government agencies inutile against Mother Nature’s outburst.
Every year the Philippines is expected to face flood problems as monsoons and typhoons hit the country. Yet we have not progressed in the solution to this pesky problem.
The intensity of rainfall in the Philippines is among the highest in the world. Over 60 percent of rainfalls in the country are associated with typhoons and tropical storms that generally form in the Carolinas-Marianas Islands Group in the Pacific Ocean. The eastern section of the Philippines, from Leyte to the Batanes group of islands, feel the full strength of the incoming typhoons.
Being in the forefront of the Asiatic typhoon area, the country faces an average of 19 to 20 typhoons every year, and the frequency of flood occurrence is the highest in Asia. Thus, flood control has since become one of the pressing problems of the national government.
In Metro Manila, about 55 percent of the metropolis’s 650 square kilometers of land area are flood-prone. Some areas are about a meter lower than the sea level. And so, areas like Navotas, Malabon and some parts of Tondo areas are flooded 365 days a year.
Unlike before, however, the problem of flood is no longer exclusive to Metro Manilans. Flood occurrence in other parts of the country like Northern, Central and Southern Luzon, Eastern and Central Visayas and Mindanao is now quite prevalent. The calamity is solely because of man’s unhampered destruction of our valuable forests that serve as natural barriers and sentinels against river overflow and flush floods.

The main cause of flooding in Metro Manila is the encroachment on esteros, rivers and other waterways by squatters, business establishments, factories and storehouses. More than 40 of Metro Manila’s waterways – rivers and esteros – have either disappeared or are dead and stagnant.
The accumulation of storm rainfalls in Metro Manila proved disastrous due to the inadequacy of existing natural and man-made drainage system. In earlier years, the esteros or “tidal streams” used to drain about 80 percent of the city’s excess rainwater. At present, however, more than half of the original lengths of these esteros have been obliterated, while the remaining tidal streams are so clogged that their combined draining capacity has been reduced by more than 75 percent of their original capacity.
According to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), rivers that once had widths of 20 to 30 meters are now only five to eight meters wide. Many of these rivers are either heavily silted, clogged or altogether gone. Where once we saw rivers, we have now concrete village roads, houses and factories.
In an extensive research study made by the then Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) in cooperation with the United Nation Desaster Relief Organization (UNDRO) in 1984-1986, Metro Manila alone has lost more than 50 million square meters of rivers, lakes and other waterways and reservoirs. The culprits are not solely the indigent squatters residing along the riverbanks. The greater parts of these missing bodies of water are reclaimed (landgrabbed) by influencial people – oligarchs, developers, land speculators, politicians, factory owners and even multinationals.
It is also of grave concern to know that much of Metro Manila is prone to ground subsidence – geologic displacement – cause by unstable subterranean soil formation and the existence of several faults within the area, most especially along and parallel to the Marikina River, the Manila deltaic plain, the areas surrounding Laguna de Bay, and the adjoining western Rizal province. These areas have been observed to have sunk from 12 to 20 inches in the last four decades. Areas that are below the “rising” sea level are prone to flooding especially during high tides.
Another factor that causes flooding is the indiscriminate dumping of garbage and other waste materials into esteros, creeks, rivers and other drainage systems. The volume of these materials is estimated to be about 5,000 cubic meters or about a thousand truckloads every week. Siltation and shallowing of the waterways resulted.
Other causes of Metro Manila’s flood are rapid urbanization; denudation of the peripheral mountains and forests of neighboring provinces; and the lack of public consciousness on the problem and the ineptness of the governing authorities to solve it.
The flood situation in cities like Manila is aggravated by the rapid growth and development of the area and its adjoining suburbs, especially when there is no correct and adequate planning involved. Rapid urbanization has increased ground surface impermeability, which more than doubled the run-off rates from storm rainfall.
Many subdivision developers in Metro Manila and its neighboring provinces are focusing mainly on the value and commercialization of prime lands. Rapid urbanization brought about the need for communal and cheaper housing to meet the demands of the growing metropolitan population.
To achieve low-cost factor in subdivision house-and-lot marketing, most developers bypass the engineering and geotechnical aspect of land and settlement development. They concentrate on the development of the land and the “low cost” housing construction without providing the necessary road networks; the elevation, slope and contour upgrading; and the storm drain canals, culverts, sewers and drainage facilities as a whole. And if ever the facilities are provided, because of budget constraint, they are inadequate with governing standards. Their design does not include safety factors such as overflow, excess rainfall, flood rush, and traffic and inflow from adjoining subdivisions and settlement areas. They are not designed in harmony with existing master networks, and as such rendered the master networks themselves inadequate even in normal condition.
The grades and elevation of corridors, roads and buildings, also most of the time, do not conform as part and parcel of the entire design for the city master plan. As such, a particular district or subdivision area becomes very much lower in elevation than the others creating drainage stagnant points that become basins for floodwater.

Much of our rivers and waterways are heavily silted, clogged or have altogether disappeared, contributing to the already grave problem of urban flooding. Worse is that the flood control system in the metropolis is outdated and virtually inadequate to handle even normal rainfall condition. Considering the outdated and disproportionate system existing in the metropolis, no wonder flood is a perennial problem.
The master plan of the flood control system for Greater Manila Area (GMA) was designed in 1951 and was submitted in February 1952 to the then Congress. It took about eleven years before it was reviewed and favorably endorsed by a group of World Bank consultants. Moreover, because of the half-hearted approach and congressional red tape on the implementation of this flood control program, it was never translated into reality.
The biggest flood in Philippine history was the Big Flood of July-August 1972, where nearly 80 percent of the entire Luzon were submerged. A series of tropical typhoons brought in several days of increasing heavy rains. Rivers overflowed their banks and dikes and other embankments gave way to rushing floodwaters. In a matter of hours, several provinces in Luzon were heavily flooded. Most of Greater Manila area went underwater too. Large areas of Luzon were underwater for about a month. Laguna de Bay rose several feet and flooded all the towns on the lakeside. The damage to lives and properties was staggering. Only the timely efforts of the authorities saved the calamity-stricken areas from total chaos. So intense was the damage of the flood that it was cited as one of the indirect reasons for the declaration of Martial Law.
In 1974, under Martial Law and without Congress sitting endlessly on it, the flood control program got top priority from among the various public works projects of the then Bureau of Public Works, headed by Director Desiderio Anolin. For Metro Manila the projects updated the Master Plan which then included the Pasig River Development program. The project involved two phases: the control of the flow of the Marikina and Pasig Rivers through the construction of diversion channels; and the construction of an adequate metropolitan drainage system. It also involved upstream control works supplemented by downstream works consisting of river walls and floodgates.
Hydrologic observations showed that the overflow of the Pasig River was caused by discharge coming from the Marikina River. The flood discharge divided into two parts. At the peak of the flood stage, about 70 percent of the flow went into the Laguna Lake, and the remainder flowed down the Pasig River to the Manila Bay, which although greatly reduced in magnitude, was still capable of causing overbank flow resulting in serious flooding in the metropolitan areas.
By the early 1980s, eleven pumping stations and four floodgates were installed to expel the waters from the esteros and main drains, into the Pasig River and San Juan River, and the nine-kilometer Mangahan Floodway was constructed diverting the excess flood water to Laguna de Bay. The Napindan Hydraulic Control Structure (NHCS) was also constructed in 1983 to regulate salt water intrusion and prevent polluted water from the Pasig River to enter Laguna de bay, and to control the lake water level for the storage of water needed to ensure adequate supply for irrigation. The NHCS was later redesigned to drain flood water from Napindan, Pasig and lower Marikina Rivers to Laguna de Bay when water levels of these three rivers are high and allows flushing out of water from the lake to Pasig River and another proposed cut-off diversion channel going to Manila Bay. For unknown reason, however, after a change of administration in 1986, the proposed diversion channels from the Pasig and Marikina Rivers cutting through the Parañaque area to Manila Bay was scrapped.
During the Marcos administration, Public works projects were supplemented by the government’s nature conservation and reforestation program. From the mid-1970s to the early-1980s, hundreds of thousands of trees were planted along and surrounding water reservoirs like Angat, Ipo and La Mesa dams, and at hilltops, embankments and mountain slopes such as in Marikina, Antipolo and much of Bulacan and Rizal provinces. Unfortunately these areas are now logged over and denuded by influencial people, many areas were turned into subdivisions, golf courses, factory zones and garbage dumpsites.
Furthermore, the flood control structures in the metropolis built three to four decades ago have already deteriorated and no major and adequate upgrade to compliment existing drainage and flood control system has been undertaken for the last 25 years or so.

It seems every time (every year) the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and local officials make a claim of supposed flood preparedness program, it always go down the sewer the moment the rains come. So, what would you expect when La Niña’s supertyphoons come?
DPWH and local officials are always pointing fingers at one another on who are to blame whenever there is a flood calamity. When the floodwaters subsides and displaced families returned to their drenched and seething homes, thoughts lingers in everybody’s mind: What’s the logic of all these? They say it’s flooding because our forests have been denuded. Well then, why don’t they ban logging totally and implement massive reforestation. They say our rivers and waterways have shrunk due to urban development. What are they doing about it? They say it's the garbage. Find, so how do you solve the problem? It's useless to argue and point fingers if real and decisive actions are not taken
The master plan of the flood control system in Metro Manila is more than five decades old. Except for two major improvements in 1974 and 1984, much of it is already inadequate. It's about time to design a new one that will sustain infrastructural growth for the next 50 to 100 years or so. In this regard, the people should be vigilant against graft and corruption in the public office. Big-budgeted projects are prime sources of corruption in government. For the past four administrations, the public works department has been reported to be in the top list of government agencies with the most graft and corruption.
Public consciousness regarding flood causes, effects and associated problems should also be addressed nationwide. Government agencies, schools, cause-oriented groups and NGOs should undertake public information drives and community action programs to prevent garbage dumping on waterways, to plant trees and help institute genuine reforestation, and to call for the removal and demolition of establishments encroaching rivers and other waterways. The government should have the political will to impose laws governing setbacks on the natural waterways regardless of the socio-political circumstances that may affect the outcome.
Urban planning should be more strict. When the Ministry of Human Settlement was still existing, zoning ordinances were implemented. Every district in Metro Manila and the surrounding suburbs were classified into different zones, which prevented developers from building subdivisions in flood prone areas. Whatever happened to those ordinances? The flood prone areas should be re-classified and the zoning ordinances re-established!
The Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) have been asking for state-of-art equipments like the Doppler Radars that can measure the quantity of rainfall that a typhoon will bring, but their requests have been falling on deaf ears. A Doppler Radar costs from 300,000 to about three million dollars each. These are peanuts compare to what the President and her entourage are spending on their foreign trips, or the cost of the presidential jet that the presidential family dream of buying. For the people’s sake, buy the equipments that PAGASA need!
Garbage dumping, especially non-biodegardable materials like plastics, should be stopped. Plastics and its byproducts clog the drainage and flood control networks. Heck, if the people can’t stop using plastic, then teach them to recycle it! City and municipal recycling and waste management plants should also be established. Factories and business establishments that have been found to be polluting our esteros and rivers should be closed immediately. It must be made mandatory for all these establishments to have adequate pollution control, waste management and recycling facilities before they can be given license to operate.
Planting trees is the best means of controlling not only flood but pollution as well. It has been proposed by some of our more nature-conscious lawmakers that we should plant at least ten million trees every year to replenish our dwindling forests. Students, cadets, law enforcers, soldiers, government employees, metro-aides, and even convicts and prisoners could be tasked to plant trees. It has been done before – during the Marcos administration – there is no reason why it can’t be done today.
A good idea is to task prisoners (especially violators of environmental laws) to plant and nourish 50 thousand trees for every year of their sentence. If they can accomplish the task before the end of their sentence, they should be pardoned. However, if they fail to produce the required number of trees at the end of their sentence, they shall remain doing the task until they have accomplished it.
Commercial logging whether legal or illegal must be totally banned. Banning logging for at least 30 to 50 years would allow our forests to recuperate. Again, only the strict implementation of the ban by the authorities, and the vigilance of the conscious public can make the program succeed.
On illegal encroachment, considered to be the primary cause of metro flooding, there seems to be some legal impediments. People “owning” the said illegally-encroached establishments have obtained titles to the said premises, prompting legal complications. But considering the Civil Code, the Public Land Act and existing land laws, such titles of land along riverbanks are, per se, “null and void ab initio.” It is up to the government authorities to take necessary action to cancel these land titles and to clear the riverbanks of these illegal encroachments notwithstanding the permanence of the structure or the influence of the people involved because this is for the greater good.

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