How to really solve our flood problem

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THE rain that Typhoon Mario and the hanging habagat (southwest monsoon) brought was alarmingly near the devastation and flood level brought by Typhoon Ondoy in 2009. Our information dissemination and emergency response to natural disasters have improved from our recent experiences with Super Typhoon Yolanda, but not our preparedness to long-term damages. So why are we still vulnerable?

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Simply put: we lack consistency when it comes to implementation and focus more on reactionary measures rather than pro-active ones.

‘Smart’ flood control systems
We know our country gets hit by an average of 20 storms per year, but compared to our Asian neighbors who already have huge working flood control systems and established mitigation measures, our own flood mitigation and water management infrastructure projects have yet to be finished. The Malaysians have their Stormwater Management and Road Tunnel (known as the SMART Tunnel), the longest storm water tunnel in Southeast Asia, to solve Kuala Lumpur’s flash flood problems and traffic jams. The project started in 2003 and opened in 2007 at a cost of $514 million. The 9.7 km long tunnel also links two lakes, the Kampung Berembang lake and Taman Desa lake, to divert the flood waters when one or both lakes overflow.

Japan, whose lands are constantly buffeted by storms and earthquakes every year, invested in a five-storey, 6.3 km long underground complex that can pump 200 cubic meters of water a second and dump it into the Edo river. Big enough to house the Statue of Liberty, this water infrastructure project is the world’s largest underground flood diversion facility and was built as a flood control measure for the next 200 years. It took 13 years to build at the cost of nearly $3 billion.

The Parañaque Spillway
In the early seventies, the Philippine government had already started to evaluate flood mitigation and disaster risk measures after Central Luzon was struck by severe flooding in 1972 brought by the southwest monsoon. The result was the Manggahan Floodway-Paranaque Spillway Complex proposal, studied and conducted by the PPDO, Metro-Manila Ring Development Project Office, and DPWTC-UPIP-UNDP.

The proposal was further backed by The Metro Manila Transport, Land Use and Development Planning Project (MMETROPLAN) carried out in 1976-1977 where I was one of its team leaders. The MMETROPLAN is an inter-agency project of the Government of the Philippines with Freeman Fox and Associates of London and Hong Kong. Including other recommendations for transport land use and urban development, the plan suggested the construction of flood control mechanisms to effectively contain and channel floodwaters, citing initiatives by other studies and proponents.

In this plan, the Laguna Lake will act as the initial floodwater container and the Manila Bay a secondary container. When the Pasig and Marikina rivers reach critical levels, its excess water is diverted to Laguna Lake through the Manggahan floodway while the Parañaque spillway will flush out excess water from Laguna Lake toward Manila Bay to protect the 29 Laguna lakeshore towns. The two most important elements in this plan are: (1) The Manggahan floodway and (2) The Parañaque Spillway to be simultaneously constructed, but only the Floodway was built. The Spillway project would have cost the government P18 billion (roughly $1 billion). Every time flood waters are diverted into the Laguna Lake via the Manggahan floodway, Laguna Lake becomes a toilet without a flush, which was what exactly happened during the onslaught of typhoon Ondoy, where 4,600 cubic meters per second of flood waters came down from the mountains and flooded more than 80,000 hectares of low-lying urban land in Metro Manila and around Laguna Lake. Singapore, in comparison, has only 71,000 hectares of land.

Recommendations
After Ondoy happened, the architects, engineers, planners, and designers of Palafox Associates and Palafox Architecture Group had an emergency meeting and brainstormed on a list of recommendations on Urban Planning, Architecture, and Engineering to address hazards toward safer cities, towns, and communities. The past administration was given this list after the catastrophic storm Ondoy and reiterated in the first week of the Aquino administration. The recommendation put forward immediate (within 100 days), short-term (within a year), mid-term (5-10 years) and long-term targets (10-20 years). Among the long-term targets related to water management infrastructure are:

1. Building the Spillway from Laguna Lake to Manila Bay.

2. Establish 100-year flood lines and rising water levels, then build higher than them

3. Control development in areas liable to flooding

4. Encourage new developments and retrofit elevated walkways, sky bridges that connect buildings above flood waters

5. Focus on solid waste management

6. Reforestation of the catch basins

7. Update Daniel Burnham’s 1905 Plan, 1976-77 MMETROPLAN, and the 2003 Manila Megalopolis Concept Plan 2020

8. Establish an Urban Metropolitan Management Review (too many overlapping functions among local, metropolitan, regional and national agencies)

9. Construct road dikes around Laguna Lake and relocate settlers to higher areas

10. Make hazard mapping (for earthquakes, floods, fire, and other hazards) a priority

11. Enforce 10-20 meter easements along rivers and lakes, and 3.5 meter easements along creeks and esteros.

There are five factors needed if our country wants to succeed: visionary leadership, political will, good planning, good design, and good governance. In 2012, the World Bank, through the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery Trust Fund developed a 25-year Metro Manila Flood Management Master Plan, the most comprehensive master plan approved by the Aquino administration. It’s a good news that the master plan project is pushing through. The bad news is, it will be completed only in 2035.

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11 Comments

  1. if may i add, the political make up of MM must be changed. remove all those mayors and craps in every city and towns within MM and run the whole metro like a conglomerate. make the whole metro a single entity. dubai and singapore could be a good model…..oh yeah, sounds impossible!…libre mangarap di ba?

  2. Mr. Palafox you have an outstanding vision, but the problem, we have a bad politicians, no plan if, no honey in hand. So majority are PPP to avoid government money from transaction they are waiting for a proper time when the tsunami and tidal wave of DAP and PDAF cool off at hand. Don’t expect anymore if these administration can still move on when in fact left and right member of this administration are accused of corruption. Then the President still trust these termites of his administration the legacy that he will left is nothing but a people of waiting of empty promises of Matuwid na Daan. His father is better than his son, because NINOY love his kababayan fair and just, if you commit crime or wrong, surely he will tell and bare you. That’s why Senator Benigno Aquino cannot be forgotten, because he really love Filipino and his native land. Hoping with in 18 months barely left that PNOY will finally listen to his boss it’s not yet over to clean the ranks of his cabinet especially to get rid of the accused. Maybe it’s hard at first but we a lot of people who can deliver do more good than harm. Don’t the following year when your tenure is over one day you will recognize its a failure because, of not making good of your true decision.

  3. …It should be “Smart flood management system”…you should avoid the words “flood control”. Every body would agree with me that when it rains it pour…and when it pour it floods.

    Remember the Bible? It took more than a month…then water subsided. There was no traffic at that time, no stripped forest, no plastic bottles, no etc etc and yet it flooded the earth.

    Can we control the flood, definitely not, however we can manage it. In fact we can even direct runoff to where it should go. The problem here is how the flood can be disposed of as quickly as possible.

    Arch. Palafox failed to mention the below recommendations and I suggest to include them in his future deliberation:

    12. New and existing projects public and private (subdivisions/villages, commercial businesses, industrial complexes, institutions and other projects that has minimum 1 hectare land area – shall provide/construct retention pond(s) incorporated in the design. (Legislation is needed, civil and building codes to be revised)

    13. Each Barangay in the country- shall provide/construct retention ponds. (It needs legislation)

    Lastly, Retention pond may be enclosed, open (lakes) or open channel types. The rain water then can be filtered/processed and utilized for green areas, fire trucks, flush toilets etc. Design and Sizes (determination of storm surface runoff ) of the rain water retention ponds/structures will be published by DPWH as design guidelines.

    Do you have a septic tank constructed adjacent your house? We do, it’s for collecting our domestic waste. Likewise we too can catch rain water in our place first before it goes to the streets. If we do this maybe instead of waist deep floods we might be lucky will get only ankle deep runoff. Thank you every one for reading.

  4. I am a victim of the Ondoy floods having left our house in Provident Village with my family without any plans of going back. It was five years since Ondoy and nothing has been done about flooding in the metro other than approving the master plan against floods and declarations that implementation has been started and that it will take years to finish per Sec Singson. Now Mario comes and massive floods happened again. Its frustrating and I am just resigned that floods will be my way of life until the good Lord calls me because at 70 and it will take 20 more years to finish the plan if it ever will be done, I am not confident to ever see such relief. I just want to see that something is truly being done meantime that’s good enough for me to hope that at least my grandkids will have a better world here.

    • What do you mean that Noynoy Administration has not done anything? Bilangin mo sa daliri mo — ang dami-dami na ang mga press releases, hindi ba? Oooops… teka pala. Iyong Laguna bay dredging, hindi ba inasikaso ni PersiNoynoy iyong dredging project?

  5. Mr. Palafox listed 11 recommendations for solving the perennial flood problem of Metr Manila. Assuming that all 11 recommendations are going to be accepted and implemented, I am very confident that not one of the recommended solutions will be implemented properly. Knowing the Filipino psyche, every Juan tamad will find a way to squeeze some form of kickback for this project every step of the way Andin the end, the flood problem which it was supposed to have addressed will be still be around only much worse.

  6. This is a very useful article containing what the Aquno administration should have concentrated on all these past 4 years of its reign. Notice that some of the important projects listed by Architect Palafox were already begun under the previous administration bujt Aquino and Abad cancelled them for partisan political motives.
    Criminal and immoral, anti-people, bad governance!

  7. Arch. Lito L. Mallonga on

    All this things are good to hear and read but where can we get all the funds
    to do it. We first address the source of the clog up and decentralized Metro
    Manila and start developing the different regions of the country so they do not
    have to go to Metro Manila to look for jobs.

    That is always the problem. He always make all the recommendation but
    we all are very aware that most of the infrastructures here are designed to
    only take so much. Metro Manila does not even have water treatment plant
    that is why if we remember the incident at Gloretta Mall in Makati when
    it exploded due to the build up of the septic tank.

    Hindi ito gawa ng Terrorist na laging sinasabi na palusot lagi. Take a break ok.
    Anyway wala naming Water Treatment Plants sa Pinas hangang gayon. All just construction of beautiful buildings and Malls .Not even for Handicaps access
    in all the building. Now can I ask how can they solved those big waves coming
    from the sea like what happened to Yolanda. Remember that Climate Change is
    unpredictable and can hit any parts of the Philippines including those from
    Manila De Bay . Just think about it ok.

    • “…where can we get all the funds to do it.”
      __________________

      Translation: No, we cannot do it.

      It is called defeatism.

      But you are right about clearing up the clogs, which should be easy, and decentralizing Metro Manila, which is easier said than done and needs a lot of funding too.

      Though you wonder if allowing all these troubles like killer floods, horrible traffic, and everything terrible is actually a strategy meant to scare people away from ever wanting to live in Manila hehehe.

    • So what is your recommendation and or solution? You ask “where you can get the fund” there are available fund, only if it is properly allocated. If there is political will, good and long term plans by so called planners and movers of government and private sector businesses, problems like flooding and traffic can be minimize if not totally solve.

  8. This is a very comprehensive and enlightening set of measures to solve the problem of flooding. But first we need a President who is serious about being a President and who will give up playing video games so he can attend full time to the problems facing the country.