We cannot make the rain go away. But surely, there must be something we can do about the floods.
The habagat (south-west monsoon) and storms are back with a vengeance after a prolonged drought. But nothing much is read or heard about finding the solution to this perennial problem of flooding, which has again reared its ugly head, harassing thousands of city commuters on their way home after work on Friday night, and again on Saturday.
The news remains dominated by the shock-and-awe campaign against illegal drugs, online gambling, oligarchs embedded in government, the illegal and irresponsible mining operations, lately the ongoing struggle to secure emergency powers for the administration to solve the Metro Manila gridlock, and the current push to get the Armed Forces of the Philippines on board in the war on terrorism. Also, count in the attempt to solve the long-standing problems of the Muslim and communist insurgencies.
Under the “change is coming” motto of the Duterte administration, finding a solution to the pesky floods that inundate the country during the wet season would definitely be a welcome change.
Public Works Secretary Mark Villar and Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia are not starting from scratch. They could examine and follow, if not improve on the “Flood Management Master Plan for Metro Manila and Surrounding Areas” that was put in place in the aftermath of the massive flooding caused by Tropical Storm Ondoy and Typhoon Pepeng in 2009.
The master plan was the result of a flood risk assessment study for the entire Metro Manila and surrounding basin area undertaken from February 2011 to February 2012. It was funded by a $1.5-million World Bank technical grant under the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery Trust Fund of the Australian Agency for International Development AusAID.
The study has identified “three major flooding occurrences,” namely the huge volume of water coming from Sierra Madre; drainage capacity constraints in core areas of Metro Manila; and low-lying communities around Manila Bay and the Laguna Lake.
The master plan is estimated to cost P351.718 billion, with an accompanying P5 billion intended for priority high-impact flood control projects approved by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Board.
The Commission on Audit still has to come up with a full assessment of where the money intended for the high-impact projects went. Was it well spent or did a sizeable chunk of the fund simply go down the drain?
A component of the high-impact projects was clearing the esteros and drainage systems. There used to be a lot of posturing among government officials who gamely had their pictures taken while the esteros were being cleaned.
Now that the habagat is again in its elements, the situation cannot be overstated. According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), the amount of rainfall the country is currently experiencing is far from what Ondoy dumped during the 2009 catastrophe that hit Metro Manila and nearby provinces.
For sure the NDRRMC meant that there is no need to panic about the latest monsoon. But how does a well-meaning government agency communicate such message to the thousands of commuters and motorists getting stranded in the streets of the metropolis?
Obviously, emergency measures to solve the daily traffic jams must include a flood mitigation component, or else, opening up the gates of exclusive subdivisions—as a measure to ease the flow of traffic—would come to naught if vehicular traffic could not move because the flooded streets are impassable.
And the latest from the weather bureau Pagasa is that more monsoon rains will hit Metro Manila and the provinces of Ilocos Sur, La Union, Pangasinan, Zambales, Bataan, Cavite, Batangas and Mindoro this week. The rains may trigger flashfloods and landslides, it warned.
This latest weather-tantrum is supposed to last until Wednesday or Thursday. This means commuters have to go through the ordeal of getting wet again while waiting for a ride to their places of work—if they are lucky enough to get a ride at all. It also means getting stuck again in traffic for hours. Schools may also be suspended during the period.
In such situations, and until the authorities find the right measures to control the floods, we can kiss a lot of the nation’s productivity goodbye.