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?
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.
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.