Answers after ‘habagat’ | Inquirer Opinion
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Answers after ‘habagat’

Now that the floodwaters have receded and the sun is out—at least in our part of the metropolis—the time has come to point fingers. Actually, it began even as many areas were still being threatened by floods, and hundreds of thousands, in fact entire communities, had been rendered homeless, congregating, wet and shivering, in makeshift evacuation centers.

There were certainly so many questions begging to be answered. As with “Ondoy,” the flooding through Metro Manila and much of Southern Tagalog, Central and Northern Luzon was not caused by a typhoon (Ondoy was dubbed a tropical storm). TV networks, at a loss for an easy handle with which to describe their extensive coverage, resorted to a descriptive term like “Hagupit ng Habagat” (roughly, “the westerly wind’s lash,” how poetic no?) or “Bagsik ng Habagat” (the west wind’s cruelty). The weather presenter at CNN explained the flooding with a mix of meteorology and geography. He tracked the path of Tropical Storm “Haikui,” which was said to have drawn the rains over Luzon much like a magnet would, and explained the particular vulnerabilities of low-lying Manila and surrounding areas by pointing out the surrounding bodies of water (Manila Bay, Laguna Lake, Pasig and other rivers and tributaries).

But we have experienced typhoons and other sorts of weather disturbances before, without seeing flooding of such an extent and duration. And we all know our geography, although it seems that, in retrospect, we may have known what our geography is like but chose to ignore it, building in vulnerable flood plains, blocking natural waterways, denuding our forests and watersheds and blocking natural flood passageways with structures and mounds of garbage.

The last seems to have come in for particular outrage. There is an online petition asking young citizens to sign a pledge not to throw garbage. Typhoon “Gener” brought the reality of our profligate garbage habits to visible (and odorous) reality, what with the virtual islands of trash floating on the seaside walk of Manila Bay. And of course, there are the graphic footage of creeks and rivers choked by garbage, usually along so-called “informal settlements.”

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Still, the search for answers to our “whys” continues.

Rep. Edcel Lagman, main sponsor of the Reproductive Health bill, issued a statement that “no amount of supplemental fund will adequately address calamities if the population problem remains unresolved.” He adds: “A huge population growth exacerbates calamities.”

Clearly linking population growth with the “problems spawned by calamities and ecological despoliation,” the congressman from Albay declared that “an inordinately huge population growth rate makes difficult and expensive risk management during calamities, contributes to the destruction of the environment, creates an imbalance in the ecosystems and hinders the efficacy of climate change mitigation and adaptation.”

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He explains: “As population expands, people reside precariously along riverbanks; invade forestlands for habitation and cut trees for livelihood; and clog waterways with their garbage, which all compound the calamity and deter efficient risk management.”

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Lagman finds vehement agreement from an unexpected source, but one whose opinion is not to be taken lightly.

He is geologist Kelvin Rodolfo, who gained a measure of fame in the wake of the Mt. Pinatubo eruption.

Says Rodolfo: “the floods and the reproductive health bill are closely connected.” A “major cause” of the Manila and Central Luzon floods, he says, is “increased use of groundwater by the growing population. This causes the coastal plains to subside, in places more than 10 inches per year.”

Citing his work and discussions with Dr. Fernando Siringan of UP Marine Science Institute and Project Noah’s Mahar Lagmay, Rodolfo bids me to talk with the two men because “you might find what they know interesting.” I’ll do just that, Dr. Kelvin.

Anyway, he offers this excerpt from a paper he and Dr. Siringan published in 2006:

…“The Philippine population, mostly residing on coastal plains, is squeezed, figuratively, between the two jaws of a vice: its own rapid growth, and the subsidence and flooding generated by its own use of groundwater. We may take little comfort in the realization that, although subsidence is accelerating, it must stop eventually, even without proper regulation. As groundwater continues to be mined, subsidence, tidal incursion and storm flooding can only get worse. In due course, however, the groundwater may be so depleted or contaminated by intruding saltwater that its use will stop; or subsidence and attendant tidal and storm flooding may render portions of the coastal plains no longer habitable, which would also result in reduced pumping. In the end, though, whatever subsidence has occurred will be permanent, and the sooner this is recognized, the sooner ameliorative steps can be taken ….”

More on this in later columns.

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TO CAP this search for answers, urban planner and architect—and eager busybody and concerned citizen—Felino “Jun” Palafox sent over a bunch of papers prepared even long before Ondoy struck, on his studies on the vulnerability of Metro Manila and surrounding areas to natural calamities, including flooding. Reading through his papers and presentations, one can’t help but wonder if the recent floods would have been avoided, or done a lot less damage, if only the Arroyo and now the Aquino governments had given Palafox’s educated and well-researched recommendations a respectful listen.

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Looks like Palafox’s conclusions and recommendations will  likewise fill up this column’s agenda for the next few days, at least.

TAGS: Floods, kelvin Rodolfo, Population growth, project noah, Reproductive Health Bill, Rina Jimenez-David

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