Saturday, October 03, 2009

100-Year Floods Now Occur Yearly

It seems to me that "100-year floods" like the one brought about by Typhoon Ondoy now occur annually. Only a little over a year ago, Iloilo City (and much of Western Visayas) was also devastated by a similar "100-year flood" caused by Typhoon Frank. Similarly, the people were caught by surprise because PAG-ASA did not forecast Frank as an especially strong typhoon. I also recall that during the early 1990s, Victorias City in Negros Occidental was also inundated by fast-running floodwaters that reached up to the roofs of single-storey houses in Canetown Subdivision. So in my lifetime, I have already experienced three (3) such "100-year floods." I am very lucky to have come out unscathed - in all three instances our residence was not hit - but seeing relatives and close friends suffering and losing everything to the flood almost makes it as bad. Watching the daily disaster footages on TV, I am overcome by a sense of deja vu since the images are almost exactly the same as the one in Iloilo a little over a year ago. In fact, because of prior experience, I was giving "tips" to my friends whose homes were hit what to expect (mud, lots of mud) and not to try to start their vehicles right away as the car computer might short-circuit. Now, another much stronger typhoon is threatening to wreak havoc and this time around, people are no longer indifferent and are dreading its anticipated arrival.

It is easy to blame climate change for the periodic flooding (it seems climate change is being blamed for a lot of our problems nowadays). But throughout history, the Philippines has been perennially inundated by floods. The reason I know this is because houses in the country used to be built on stilts. The poor man's bahay kubo and the rich man's bahay na bato were specially designed to withstand floods. And in a tropical country like ours, elevated houses bring an added bonus of keeping the house occupants comfortably cool by allowing air to enter from the floor. In this sense our ancestors were eminently wiser and more forward-looking than us.

I don't exactly know when it started but somehow this traditional house design became out of style with us Filipinos. If I were to guess, I think it all started during the 1960s-1970s with the advent of the bungalow-type house. By the time I was born, everyone already aspired for a bungalow house. Today, even in flood-prone areas like Malabon, Navotas and Pateros people there insist on living in bungalow-type houses even if a house built along the bahay-na-bato lines is more practical. Even in rural areas, I notice that you can seldom see a traditional bahay kubo on stilts today as most of the houses are already built on the ground and made of concrete and other hard materials.

In the aftermath of Typhoon Ondoy, it is perhaps time for Filipinos to rethink and to alter their concept of the "dream home." The Filipino's dream home should not be an American-style bungalow situated inside a gated subdivision with ridiculously pretentious, foreign-sounding names (Savannah, Bali Oasis, Parc Regency, Manhattan Garden, etc. -- I cringe everytime). It should be a house designed along the lines of the bahay na bato with the sala, kitchen, bathrooms and living quarters all on the second floor. The ground level, which should not be cemented to allow ground absorption of rainwater, could be used as a garage and storeroom.

As food for thought, here are two articles discussing the who's to blame and what should be done to address the periodic flooding (read here and here). Kenneth Cardenas in his article argues that Metro Manila should grow UP and not grow OUT:

"" Since urban land prices are ridiculously high for our level of wealth, and since newly freed-up parcels (like Fort Bonifacio, Camp Bago Bantay and North Triangle) are typically privatized to the highest bidder, the tendency is for real estate developers to build condominiums for the low-risk, high-return markets of high income demographics.

There is absolutely no incentive to develop high-rise residences in the urban core for the majority of the population, effectively denying them, through pricing, the right to legitimate settlement in the urban core.

This has two consequences for how Mega Manila grows, how it is built, and how it was affected by tropical storm Ondoy.

The first is the growth of slums in core areas. Social groups that are so poor that they are not served even by socialized housing, but nonetheless depend on the city for employment, have no choice but to live in slums. As the events of the past weekend show, slums are disproportionately vulnerable to natural disasters, as they are often built on marginal land and have high population densities.

Systematically abandoned by the state and shunned by the market, a disproportionate number of poor Filipinos therefore have to live in slums. While we have roughly the same GDP/capita as Indonesia (Ph: 3,510; Id: 3,975) (PPP$, 2006), fully 44% of urban Filipinos live in slums, compared to 23% of urban Indonesians.

The second consequence is sprawl: the city grows out, rather than up. To tap demographics that are priced out of core urban lands, as well as to meet the government’s 20% socialized housing requirement, developers opt to build house-and-lot subdivisions in the urban periphery, where land is still relatively cheap, and where old landlords are eager to dispose of properties about to be subjected to agrarian reform. Thus, within the past two decades, Manila’s metropolitan area (as defined by a population density of at least 1,000 persons per square kilometer) has grown to become a 3,105 sq. km. monstrosity, with much of this growth occurring as encroachment on prime agricultural land in Bulacan, Cavite, and Laguna."

Hence to prevent the further growth of the urban sprawl that is Mega Manila, government needs to rethink its strategy of relocating squatters to the periphery (i.e. San Mateo, Montalban) and just allow them to stay in the city center by building them affordable high-rise condominiums. Likewise, LGUs should impose a moratorium on agricultural land conversion and private developers should instead focus on "vertical," not "horizontal" housing projects. Ultimately, I believe the solution to the flooding and climate change lies in population management. Metro Manila, which has a total land area of 238 square miles, is now home to 20 million people bringing its population density to an astounding 49,000 people per square mile. There are simply too many people living is such a small area. Environmentalists will argue that people should be taught how to reduce their "carbon footprint," the Church will say that people should alter their consumerist ways while some in government will advocate for a balik-probinsiya program for squatters. But so long as we breed like rabbits, all these solutions will just ultimately fail.


Anonymous said...

To fellow Ilonggos,

Gordon's proposed bill adding yet another ray to the Philippine flag should concern all Filipinos but most especially us Ilonggos.
The eight rays within the white triangle represents the towns within Luzon that hastened the Philippine Revolution.

However, Santa Barbara, which actively participated under General Delgado, was never represented in the flag.

Gordon and even Puentebella maintains that Muslim resistance to colonial rule merits a ray. Problem is, Mindanao is already one of three stars that mark our flag.

Whatever for is this bill? It begs a timely answer- acknowledge the " Cry of Santa Barbara" in it's proper conext.

Omon Maravilla
Oct 3, 2009

Oliver M. Mendoza said...

Yes I'll take a look at it.

Omon Maravilla said...

Thank you Oliver, when I first heard of this bill it struck me as well, the flag is indeed crowded and the symmetry will be affected. Then I realize it was to pacify Mindanao.
But since my family is from Santa Barbara, and my grandfather saw the raising of the flag, and that during the Centennial, it was only Sta Barbara outside of Luzon that was given recognition, i figured it better be given to a town deserving it's place historically than another political gesture, however well-meaning is still not in context!
it's up to us to correct this, and NOW is the time.!!!
I cannot see how Manila can ignore a truth so glaring. we have to give our old folks their rightful the flag.