Dangerous, damaging reclamation
This week we focus on the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA), which anticipates pursuing more than 600 projects all over the country before 2022, including “illegal reclamation projects that we want to legalize or seek reimbursement from.”
Already you can see the values that the agency practices. Projects were illegal? Let’s not dismantle or close them, let’s just legalize them (how does one legalize what is illegal—change the rules?). Or make them pay us (“reimburse”—for what?).
It is easy to conclude that the agency must be easygoing. If this is the case, the Philippines is in deep trouble. The PRA has a National Reclamation Plan which apparently proposes to reclaim 38,000 hectares nationwide, involving 102 projects (another report says 115), 26,232 of which are along the coast of Manila Bay.
Well, for starters, that would add about 40 percent land area to an almost unsustainable Metro Manila (National Capital Region), which covers 63,843 hectares.
What’s so unsustainable about the NCR? Geologist Kelvin Rodolfo, in an article titled “Why the Reclamation of Nearshore Manila Bay is a Very Bad Idea” and written about three years ago, points out that:
The land in the NCR is sinking (mainly from overpumping of groundwater caused by population pressure). This, combined with the effects of global warming, the rising sea level, and the fact that the NCR is barely one meter above sea level (near the coastline), makes the NCR a recipe for disaster. Reclamation would speed up the sinking of the land, either from the withdrawal of groundwater, or from the added weight of buildings, or both.
According to the weather bureau Pagasa, there is increased danger of storm surge or storm waves caused by typhoons (up to four meters high) in coastal areas targeted for reclamation. And the flooding it causes can last for days, and will exacerbate the flooding we already experience in the NCR.
The greatest hazard, whose probability increases when there is artificial reclamation, is what is called seismically induced liquefaction (the ground and what is beneath it liquefies, caused by an earthquake that may be hundreds of kilometers away). Naturally, if the ground liquefies, the structures on it collapse—as what happened to the Ruby Tower in Binondo in 1968, killing 260 people.
The reclamation carries with it other costs: the damage to the marine environment (coral reefs, fishing grounds), the damage caused by quarrying, the damage to cultural institutions, the damage to the citizens who lose their occupations (fishers, etc.), or whose lives are negatively affected by the reclaimed areas. The proponents of the reclamation projects do not include any of these in their calculations, and thus end up with positive net benefits for their projects.
What happens when these costs are included in our accounting? What if we internalize the externalities, and take them into account in our cost-benefit analysis?
This exercise was performed in 2005 by a team from the University of San Carlos, Cebu in connection with the Cordova Reclamation Project (CRP), and under the auspices of the Singapore-based Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia. Their work, peer-reviewed, is titled “The Environmental Costs of Coastal Reclamation in Metro Cebu, Philippines.”
After a thoroughgoing analysis, it found: “A comparison of the costs arising from the CRP (including environmental costs) with projected economic benefits—in the form of profits earned by the industrial and commercial firms that may locate on the new land—yields negative net present values, even for the most optimistic projections of benefit flows. The economic loss to society, if the project was undertaken, was estimated to range from US$335 million to US$404 million (net present value in a 30-year period at an 8-percent discount rate).”
In other words, the Cordova Reclamation Project was not worth it. The study was released in 2005. The project was approved anyway in 2008. Greed and corruption win every time.
Are we going to let that happen in Metro Manila?