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Commentary

Wasteland

While the onset of rainy days brings smiles to water-starved citizens of the National Capital Region (NCR), it opens a can of problems that had been previously covered by the stifling summer months: garbage, clogged waterways and the apparent lack of foresight of many city executives.

I spent more than a decade working in Manila, and I knew how harrowing it was to experience flooding on my way to work and on my way home. A year removed from the metropolis, I get to read news reports that convey the sad message of usual flooding problems in Manila and adjacent cities: Not much has really changed.

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In that part of the world, it never fails, year in and year out, that the rainy season arrives with a grand entrance of floods, the stinking garbage that goes with them, and the ever-nagging question of what the city leaders did or never did last summer to prepare for the hassles the annual rainy season brings.

It’s really like a cliché movie plot: The rains come, the floods appear, the metropolis is paralyzed, and the affected commuters and residents complain incessantly about the government’s shortcomings. The local executives point at blocked waterways as the culprit of the floods. Eventually, the waterways are found awash with tons of garbage, which the government proclaims is caused by residents who are irresponsible in disposing their waste, particularly informal settlers whose makeshift houses cling on for dear lives on waterways, riverbanks and bridges.

Thus, highly urbanized cities with huge national budgets turn into a humongous wasteland, an ocean of trash that overwhelms practically everything — people, machines, infrastructure and even systems. Cities that crawl during rush hour come to a standstill during even the most normal of rains.

Which brings us to a multitude of questions. Why are local government units (LGUs) in Metro Manila seemingly helpless in the face of expected rains? How do barangay captains manage waste? How do local executives check the entry of informal settlers into their territories? How are waterways maintained, if at all? How do leaders prepare for floods, apart from shoring up low-lying areas that merely displace floodwaters to areas that were previously unflooded? And how does the national government deal with LGUs that continually fail to solve flooding problems?

You would think politicians would easily handle problems on flooding, because the predictable weather in our country — despite the unpredictability of climate change that makes the phenomenon an easy scapegoat — makes for routine preparations. But many city leaders apparently allow themselves to be caught up in the nitty-gritty of the current season that they are unprepared for the arrival of the next. Thorough planning that yields outstanding results on flood problems is more of an exception than a rule, which is a shame considering that these LGUs are among the richest in the nation. The example of Marikina, which is always threatened by waters in its river but manages to overcome the yearly ordeal with flying colors, is not easily replicated elsewhere.

It is therefore a welcome development when new leaders rise in the upper echelons of city governments. It gives hope that the new administrations would wield fresh approaches in dealing with perennial problems such as flooding and garbage.

Here’s hoping that the fresh term of NCR leaders will bring about much-needed reforms. Considering the grand promises they made during the campaign period, it wouldn’t be too much to ask of them to make the metropolis a more livable place regardless of the season.

James M. Fajarito, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Holy Angel University in Angeles City, Pampanga.

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TAGS: clogged waterways, Flooding, garbage, Inquirer Commentary, James M. Fajarito
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