Notes and Notices

On art, architecture and design

8/10/2012

Manila gets that sinking feeling (again)

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

It was like a bad nightmare all over again. In 2009, typhoon Ketsana dropped 455mm of rain in 24 hours, breaking the record last set 42 years ago, but barely five years have past and yet another bout of torrential rain submerged half of Manila with 472 mm of rain in 22 hours.

They had said Ketsana was a once in a lifetime thing, but climate change is making intense rains the new norm in the country. That's bad news for an archipelago that still has a lot of work to do when it comes to handling record-breaking levels of water.

Honed by their experience of Ketsana, Filipinos as usual went into full gear, banding through Facebook, Twitter, websites and even encouraging artwork. My timeline and Twitter feed were filled with flood updates from all corners of Manila.

Liane Candelario, a BA Political Science student from the University of the Philippines, even went a step further and created iCANHELPH, now a go-to site for centralizing all information on relief operations, in just seven hours. Filipinos could post opportunities for donations, volunteer work or simply any useful information. There's even a portion for typhoon-related infographics.

Inspired by the words: the Filipino spirit is waterproof, artists and designers have turned to the web to reach and give encouragement. Their work is archived on a Tumblr operated by the Ayala Museum.

via @daintygeek

Despite these silver linings, the situation felt like a tragic repeat. Millions of people were still affected by the more than one week's worth of constant rain. Rushing floods swirled all around the metro, leaving thousands refugees in their own countries.

We all knew it could happen again, but why doesn't it feel like anything has been done?

In the last few months, I've been covering news and stories surrounding the Los Angeles River. I've met with activists and politicians deeply invested in how water is managed and distributed throughout the county. Sure, they might not always agree on the specific tactics, but again and again, I've seen proposals to ensure water is captured, impermeable surfaces are reduced, and architectural plans sensitive to the native hydrology. Why is it that in the decades of yearly monsoons, the Philippines has yet to develop the sense of urgency needed to marshal and enforce good urban planning solutions that will alleviate the worst of a monsoon's effects?

Over at Rappler, a social news site based in the Philippines, Gemma Bagayaua Mendoza, succinctly outlines the underlying problems. Mendoza writes that what she had written in 2002, still holds true ten years later. Again, nothing has changed. Sure, almost a fifth of Metro Manila is naturally flood-prone (because portions of it are below sea level) but there are other factors that Filipinos could easily control.

The country should develop an exhaustive urban plan to control sprawl and stick to it. No excuses, despite how many millions developers have poured into infrastructure projects. We see enough gray, drab concrete on our roads. The government should work harder at cleaning up the streets and preventing trash (and other waste) from clogging our drainage systems.

Developers should not only take into account the financial gains of a property, but hire designers who also take flood risk into account and plan for it. The Royal Institute of British Architects has a good report available online, which folds in placemaking alongside disaster-mitigation. Design Against the Elements, a Filipino call for design-resilient solutions may also hold some promising solutions.

Residents aren't exempt from action either. Sending out alerts and news reports are all well and good, but it's time to pick up the trash (literally and figuratively). We should be more conscientious of cleanliness. Put rubbish where it belongs and adhere to that age-old mantra: reduce, re-use and recycle.

Like any large-scale problem, disaster mitigation in an overpopulated city of 15 million is like trying to solve the Gordian Knot without ever resorting to the sword (i.e. fast and easy solutions that don't really get at the heart of the problem).

I'm encouraged by how many posts I've seen echoing my sentiments against "band-aid solutions." We might have let things slide every year when flooding comes because we see it as part of daily life, but when the floods get higher and higher every year, I'd like to think we'd stop looking at our interests, our pockets, our old way of life, and start working towards solid solutions.


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