At Large

A new disaster in the making

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The bad news, according to Kelvin Rodolfo (he who made “lahar” a household term after the eruptions of Mount Pinatubo), is that Supertyphoon “Yolanda” was neither the first nor the last of such weather disturbances to cross our borders.

Indeed, he says, citing an international study, tempests emanating from the Pacific are expected to come more frequently and to be of increasing ferocity. “The study says that while Level 1, 2 or 3 typhoons will come with more or less the same frequency in the future, it’s the level 4 and 5 typhoons (the stronger, more powerful ones like Yolanda) that will become more frequent.”

And what can the Philippines do about them?

Note that before Yolanda struck, the government had issued warnings days earlier, with President Aquino even issuing a televised warning. Relief agencies “prepositioned” their supplies in the areas lying in the path of the typhoon, while local governments warned their populations and moved a number of families living along the coast to higher ground.

But it seems we didn’t anticipate the full power of Yolanda or the full impact of the storm surge it generated. Residents didn’t move high enough or far enough from the rampaging waters. Buildings thought strong enough to withstand the fiercest winds lost roofs and windows or sank into sodden ground. Trees collapsed, and their trunks (including coconuts) served as destructive missiles. Worse, warehouses and buildings containing the prepositioned goods were flooded, while places usually considered shelters, such as gyms, schools and churches, trapped the people, many of whom drowned.

We knew what was coming, but we didn’t have the imagination to conjure the scenario of devastation that followed.

* * *

SO WHY, asks Rodolfo, his sharp gray eyes never losing the gleam of the biblical prophet he so reminds me of, are some people deluding themselves into believing that we will somehow win immunity from the severest effects of our changing weather?

More specifically, testifying at a public hearing on the proposed projects of the Philippine Reclamation Authority and private entities, Rodolfo says the planned reclamation project on Manila Bay faces three indomitable obstacles that will put the entire metropolis under threat of a “Yolanda-like” catastrophe, if not worse.

Rodolfo cites three specific threats: the danger of land subsidence or collapse; the threats of storm surge (such as what overwhelmed Leyte, Samar and other areas) and high storm waves caused by typhoons; and “seismically induced liquefaction,” or the tendency of firm soil to turn into soft mud during an earthquake.

Of the last phenomenon, he says areas on reclaimed land, whether reclaimed from Manila Bay or the mouth of the Pasig River, “would not require an earthquake to occur nearby to suffer serious damage.” Case in point: In 1969, a 7.3-magnitude earthquake hit Casiguran, Quezon, 225 kilometers away from Manila, and many structures built on reclaimed land were damaged. Most tragic of all was the collapse of the six-story Ruby Tower in Binondo, where 260 people died.

* * *

“PHILIPPINE authorities now generally accept that global warming is raising sea levels by about three millimeters per year,” says a statement issued by the coalition opposing the reclamation projects. “Even without reclamation, continuing rapid and accelerating subsidence of the coast lands bordering Manila Bay is worsening both floods and high tide invasions,” it says. Thus, authorities worry about “how this rise must be aggravating Metro Manila flooding, which is one and a half inches per year. However, what is alarming is that the land is subsiding 30 times faster, mainly from over-pumping of ground water.”

The coalition warns that reclamation will speed up the sinking of the land, “from the withdrawal of groundwater or from the added weight of buildings, or both.”

Neither are Metro Manilans strangers to storm surges. In 2011, during Typhoon “Pedring,” the waters of Manila Bay overflowed all along the coastline, with floodwaters reaching all the way to Taft Avenue and even breaking the glass windows of the restaurant Spiral at the bayside Sofitel hotel and flooding the entire ground floor and basement.

“Powerful but still poorly recognized and understood hazards, storm surges are increasing in strength and frequency,” says the statement. Rodolfo warns that unlike a tsunami, which can occur suddenly but subsides soon after, a storm surge, depending on how long the typhoon winds last and on the height of the tides, can last for days.

* * *

NOTE that the Philippine Reclamation Authority has plans for reclamation in other parts of the country, but it is working most furiously on the Manila Bay project.

But the groups opposing the plan (a public hearing was held a few days ago, though the media were mostly kept out of it by deceit and subterfuge) say the plan is not only NOT environmentally sound, it also threatens the livelihood and heritage of all Manilans.

For starters, reclamation will be at the expense of the livelihoods of fisherfolk and urban poor, who rely on the bay for fishing and livelihoods. But it isn’t just the “small people” who will be affected. What about the hotels, businesses, residents and establishments in Ermita, Malate, the CCP Complex, and Asia World in the original reclamation area?

Then there’s the cultural, historical and tourism significance of many institutions in the area. The area covering Manila Bay and the waterfront from Del Pan Bridge to the Cultural Center of the Philippines has been declared a National Historical Landmark, while Intramuros and nearby areas should be protected and improved, not destroyed.

More questions remain, and these shall be tackled in a later column.

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  • Eustaquio Joven

    More intense challenges? Let’s meet them thumbs up and heads on with Gordon or Hagedorn.

  • RyanE

    I think reclamation projects anywhere in the PHL should be discouraged. Reclamation is only good for countries with limited flat surfaces or mostly mountainous areas.

    PHL has lots of flat surfaces. It’s high time to bring developments even to the rural areas and not concentrate in urban centers such as Metro Manila.

    • Jose Maria de Manila

      It is best the coastlines of populated areas be walled-up with mangroves. This could save a lot of lives and properties from storm sea surges.

      • RyanE

        Yes. The question is whether mangroves would still grow in those heavily polluted coastlines?

      • Jose Maria de Manila

        You have a point, but there is always a way. They actually still grow quite well along the Paranaque coast where the water is not that clean though. No harm trying.

      • NEILMCNALLY

        I like the concept of healthy mature mangrove areas being a ploy against storm-surges..but,what evidence have you that they would lessen the destructive effects of 3-5 meter waves?
        Seems to be a fantasy to me..even though I am all for rehabilitation of all areas stripped of mangroves.

      • Jose Maria de Manila

        I have no proof, but I am sure this will help since its thick roots are well entrenched into the marshes and then protruding upward. As I said, there is no harm trying. It is no fantasy. The mangroves are quite a thick pack of well rooted vegetation that grows like medium sized trees that are used to water currents if you had seen one. A 30 meter thick mangrove wall would surely reduce the impact (of a tidal surge) if not prevent it.

      • NEILMCNALLY

        I think some-one into physics needs to enter this discussion..certainly,a mangrove barrier will be an obstacle for a tidal surge..but did you see on videos the power of those surges..did you? There is likely to be a minor hesitation..then the surge will regain it’s impetus and annilate all in it’s path!!

      • Jose Maria de Manila

        I do not wish to argue, but have you seen what a mangrove looks like?

      • RyanE

        I believe nature has a sort of built-in systems to balance one another. As there is predator to regulate the population of its prey, I think in the same manner mangroves are the natural barrier against storm surges.

      • Robert Cruise

        the proposal of mr jmdm and company on mangroves has merits. the mangorves will proivde some kind of lessening the oncoming force. one piece of paper will not stop a bullet but a ream of paper may. likewise the more areas planted with mangroves the the more subjugation of the force. the more chaotic the order of planting the less predictable is the flow of forces, so in some areas, there is more protection in some less but collectively they provide a greater protection. in many cases, we learn from nature the solutions to many of the physical problems. we learn principle of the dam from the beaver. we learn from the bamboo, the spider web, or from the flights of the bird or the bumble bee. the solution cannot be only provided by the mangrove alone but in combination with other solutions. reclaimation of the manila bay is not one of them. reclamation is one soultion of how one group of greedy people can make money. this is one example of robbing peter to pay paul. we are robbing the environment so the pauls can collect and then later on it will turn out that the peters are the ones who will be paying the price while paul is happily watching the tragedy of peter.

  • CmdrAdobo

    pinoy should stop making babies. We are in 12th largest population but we live in not so big country.

  • Barak_O

    palakas at palakas na ang mga lindol at bagyo

    sa darating na mga taon

    andyan pa si vp binay walang ibang pinagkaabalahan

    kondi ang maging presidente ng lupang bagyohin at lindolin

    paano na lang ang mga kayumangging nilalang nyan?

    kendi lang naman ang binibigay nya

  • alisto101

    A new disaster in the making and it was made by man. Destruction of the environment will hasten this kind of calamity. Naturally more people will die because our coastal areas are heavily populated. It’s a natural process of cleansing the earth. . Therefore, we must be prepared anytime for it will come. .

  • peter

    meron nang warning ng storm surge even few days before mag landfall si “yolanda, the CNN weatherforcaster even provided in detail the possible worst case scenario ng supertyphoon and the storm surge ilang araw pa bago dumating un typhoon. hindi ito kagaya ng earthquake na mahirap ma predict kng kelan magyayari at kng gaano kalakas ang magnitude, kaya nakapagtataka na parang walang ginawang contingency plan para sa
    worst-case scenario ng typhoon at storm surge

  • PhoenixPoliticalParty

    Why not turn these threats to our advantage? The reclamation projects, too! Investors should be encouraged to opt for floating structures, with big cables to be played out once the strong waves come. Of course, there’s this chance that gigantic floating structures might be carried by the waves crushing down on existing structures, like the Philippine Congress, for example. … Now, won’t that be really something to see?

  • speedstream2

    When huge business interests are at stake, some people tend to become deaf and blind. And more often than not, money trumps the common good. The irony is that, from experience, when you-know-what hits the fan, finger-pointing reigns. If we don’t take to heart the lessons dealt us by the recent calamities, then we should be ready to pay the price.

  • talagalangha

    Anyare sa 30 airplanes, 20 ships and lots of supplies na naka-ready daw at ipinagmamalaki ni Pnoy the day BEFORE the storm….nawala sa Bermuda Triangle…?

    Pabagsak na talaga sa kapalpakan itong si Benigno Aquino, the TURD!

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