As a country where the Pacific typhoon belt and Pacific Ring of Fire runs through our communities and cities, we are no strangers when it comes to extreme weather conditions. The destruction Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) wreaked on Visayas two weeks ago unearthed issues on disaster preparedness and questioned the country’s capability for such. Many call it an unprecedented climate disaster, and we were simply not expecting an impact this big and severe.
Our communities may have adapted to these changes, but without proper guidelines from planners and the determined implementation of the local government units to the vulnerable communities all over the country, poorly equipped communities will continue to sprout up and be destroyed with each natural disaster. As current president of the Philippine Institute of Environmental Planners (PIEP), I’ve asked the cooperation of the architects, urban planners, engineers, designers, and consultants of Palafox Associates to put forward our recommendations for collaboration towards a new plan to help Tacloban city well into the 21st century.
Climate change and urbanization
We are the world’s third most vulnerable country when it comes to disasters, but we have done little in terms of development and mitigation. There should be a direct relationship between disaster mitigation implementation and education with the increase in urban population in island/coastal towns and cities. What happened in Tacloban City and the other affected areas in Visayas are not just a result of the onset of climate change but urbanization as well. Mangrove forests, which used to provide vital protection from storms around the city have been cut down to make way for the population boom that tripled in the past 40 years.
When I was interviewed by BBC last week, I proposed that Tacloban should be the center for climate change as it was the first area to be hit by the effects of climate change not being addressed effectively in the Philippines. Let’s take lessons from mistakes made and review and upgrade our planning and building zone codes, which did not address the wind speeds of super typhoons and other hazards. We can be inspired by how the city of Hiroshima endured after it was bombed in 1945 and was hit with a strong typhoon a month later which left thousands dead. Now, Hiroshima has been declared the center for world peace and a livable world-class city. We can also be inspired how Warsaw, the worst devastated city after World War II rose from the ashes, as well as the cities destroyed by the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami in 2004.
Replan, remake, rebuild
To strengthen Tacloban’s defenses against disasters, the city’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan and Zoning Ordinance (Clupzo), transportation, and mobility plans should be updated. The plan should designate at least one square meter per person of evacuation space in international standards.
Tacloban City lacked such strong, disaster-proof evacuation areas given its geography and population growth. Thus, the city of Tacloban should have three evacuation sites of 10 hectares each, and every evacuation area should be fitted with six facilities required by the land use policy: emergency clinics, water and food stations, emergency shelters and telecommunication centers, and an emergency helipad.
Tacloban should also have large parks with wide roads and no intersections, underground power lines, and invest in coastal engineering so that the city can predict future storm surges and alert its citizens ahead of time.
By collaborating with other volunteer architects and engineers, and planners from the PIEP, Tacloban can become a walkable, livable, better-connected, safer, disaster prepared, better-lighted city well into the 21st century for mixed-income and cross-generational residents, integrating places to live, shop, dine, learn, worship, with healthcare and wellness centers, and 24-hour cycle activities.
Arch. Felino “Jun” Palafox Jr. is the Principal Architect and Managing Partner of Palafox Associates, a multi-disciplinary firm he founded in 1989. Known for his advocacies for the environment, Arch. Palafox is the president-elect of the Philippine Institute of Environmental Planners (PIEP) for 2013 and 2014. He has lectured in 16 countries in Asia, Europe, and North America. He earned his Architecture degree from the University of Santo Tomas and his Masters in Environmental Planning from the University of the Philippines. He also holds seven diplomas from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.