"Invest big, invest now, and see benefits over the medium- and long-term."
It is crushing to see the suffering and misery of many thousands of Filipinos whose lives were threatened and property destroyed by the onslaught of Typhoon Ulysses (international name: Vamco), especially just a week after the havoc created by Super Typhoon Rolly (Goni).
As during the time of the massively destructive typhoons Ondoy and Haiyan, pleas for rescue and relief goods are being heard from many parts of the country where people are neck-deep in floodwater, their roofs torn off and windows blown in by the savagery of the storm.
As shattering as these images are, this reality is enacted over and over again in the Philippines, which is hit by about 20 storms a year. Still we have not come up with a reasonable and effective plan of action or infrastructure that will prevent flooding and diminish the annual risk of life, limb, and property.
This is not to say that the government has not prepared for disasters; rather, kudos are due to the many local governments that prepared their people beforehand and laid in the rescue and relief supplies they knew would be needed. However, these actions are merely reactive, and the failure lies in the lack of proactive measures against flooding.
Many experts, throughout the years, have given their suggestions on this matter so it is certainly not a lack of knowledge and skill that holds us back from being more prepared to meet calamities. Even the most cursory Internet search will throw up many articles on the matter.
In September 2014, architect Jun Palafox wrote in Manila Times that we are still vulnerable to long-term damage because “we lack consistency when it comes to implementation” and we tend to “focus more on reactionary measures rather than pro-active ones.”
Palafox wrote that while other Asian countries have “huge working flood control systems and established mitigation measures,” ours “have yet to be finished.” He gave as examples Malaysia’s SMART (Stormwater Management and Road Tunnel) and Japan’s five-storey underground facility that dumps water into the Edo River.
The SMART Tunnel project, he wrote, took four years to complete at a cost of $514 million. It is the “longest storm water tunnel in Southeast Asia” built to “solve Kuala Lumpur’s flash flood problems and traffic jams.” The Japanese “water infrastructure project” took 13 years to build, cost $3 billion, and is the “world’s largest underground flood diversion facility and was built as a flood control measure for the next 200 years.”
Now that is forward-thinking. Invest big, invest now, and see benefits over the medium- and long-term.
Palafox said that after typhoon Ondoy in 2009, he and his team of architects and engineers brainstormed flood control recommendations that they submitted to the Aquino government.
In 2012, that administration, with technical and financial assistance from the World Bank, launched the Flood Management Master Plan for Metro Manila, to be completed in 2035.
The plan “proposed a set of priority structural and non-structural measures to provide sustainable flood management,” wrote World Bank (WB) Lead Irrigation Engineer Joop Stoutjesdijk for PreventionWeb.
He added that in 2017, under the Duterte administration, the WB and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) approved $500 million in funding for the project, which has four components—modernizing drainage areas, minimizing solid waste in waterways, participatory housing and resettlement, and project management and coordination—which aims to reduce flooding in some 56 drainage areas and directly benefit “at least 1.7 million people,” particularly “many informal settlers living near drains and waterways.”
So what has happened now to this Metro Manila Flood Management Master Plan?
In August 2018, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) said “none of the projects” under the plan have been completed since 2012. Speaking to CNN Philippines, the agency’s Flood Control Engineer Lydia Aguilar said only 14 percent of the projects had been funded since the approval of the master plan.
“’Yun po yung dahilan ba’t pa rin may pagbaha, kasi di pa natin nabubuo yung projects,” she added. [That’s the reason why there are still floods, because we haven’t completed the projects.]
Meanwhile, DPWH Unified Project Management Office and Flood Control Management Cluster Director Patrick Gatan said repairing Metro Manila’s drainage systems will require major funding and also worsen traffic.
The question is, why would funding be a problem if the WB and AIIB already approved half a billion dollars for the project? And what’s worse, traffic for a few years or continuous annual typhoon-related damage and deaths?
Two years ago, in a Senate Committee on Public Works hearing, committee chairman Senator Manny Pacquiao decried the slow implementation of flood control projects and called on DPWH to work with local government units and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority to speed up the projects.
Pacquiao cited a Commission on Audit report that the DPWH failed to complete projects worth P62.59 billion on time, among them 622 flood-control measures designed to address flooding around the country.
Since 2018 there have been no updates on the plan that I’ve been able to find.
It is clear that there is a long-term flood management infrastructure project; that funding for it was approved; and that this administration has acknowledged its existence and slow performance in implementing the plan.
When will the DPWH realize that these flood management projects are necessary and vital? Metro Manila contributes some 35 percent to the Philippine economy, according to the WB. The area is also home to over 15 million people. People are suffering and dying each time a storm hits, and all this misery can be reduced, mitigated, even prevented, if we had a flood-control system like Malaysia’s SMART or Japan’s underground tunnel.
The Philippine flood management master plan must be fast-tracked. Let’s call on the DPWH to do its job, and the appropriate senators to kick the laggards’ butts and get them moving.
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Where are the missing PhilHealth billions? FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO