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Editorial

Economic costs

/ 09:20 PM August 13, 2012

To the loss of life and property, we must add the huge economic cost of last week’s heavy rains and the ensuing floods. Initial government estimates placed the impact of the inclement weather—it wasn’t even a typhoon—at something less than P10 billion.

This estimate does not include much of the damage borne by the private sector, which suffers the bulk of opportunity losses during calamities. Manufacturing was adversely affected, after some plants in Metro Manila and nearby regions were flooded. Many companies were hurt by the work stoppage declared by Malacañang. Electricity shortages in certain areas also reduced productivity.

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Now the Department of Public Works and Highways has unveiled what it called a P352-billion comprehensive flood management program for Metro Manila up to the year 2035. Its highlights are the construction of a large dam in Marikina worth P198 billion and improvements on the Pasig and Marikina river embankments.

Not a few are asking why those projects sound familiar. Others wanted to know what had happened to the work done in the aftermath of Tropical Storm “Ondoy” and Typhoon “Pepeng” that hit the country in 2009.

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They were referring to the Special National Public Reconstruction Commission, which was created by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to raise funds for, and oversee, the reconstruction program. They were also referring to the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) that was conducted to get a comprehensive and thorough assessment of the damage and the economic and social impact resulting from Ondoy and Pepeng.

The PDNA was no joke. It was a joint initiative of the government, representatives of the private sector and civil society organizations, multilateral development partners (the ADB, the European Commission, the United Nations and the World Bank), and bilateral development partners like the international development agencies of Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan and the United States. More than 150 people from government agencies, local government units, civil society organizations, the private sector and the academe were involved in the data collection and analysis.

The PDNA report provided the government with a framework with which to mobilize support from the global community to help the Philippines recover from the devastation and from similar catastrophes.

The report recommended the creation of a new institutional agency responsible for managing floods and drainage in the entire catchment area of Metro Manila, including Laguna de Bay. For the longer term, it also suggested additional investment to retain water upstream (through infrastructure like the Marikina dam) and regulate the flow of water through the system, including a new floodway to link Laguna de Bay to Manila Bay.

Several medium-term activities were proposed, with a three-year timeframe from 2010 to 2012, with estimated funding requirements of just P8.05 billion. Priority activities for Metro Manila would have included an urgent program to rehabilitate and improve key flood management and drainage systems; the further development and implementation of a comprehensive monitoring and warning system as well as a flood forecasting system (though the Aquino administration has done this), and the preparation of a comprehensive update of the 1990 master plan that would prioritize future developments to increase safety against floods for Metro Manila.

To reduce the impact of future storms, it said policies and development practices in urban development and housing must be addressed. The most important initiative was to ensure that LGUs prepare comprehensive land-use plans based on updated thematic maps that take into account risk-sensitive land-use planning. From these maps, zoning ordinances could be phased in and enforced to ensure that housing was not located in dangerous areas.

Unfortunately, the Special National Public Reconstruction Commission was abolished when the Aquino administration took over in July 2010; on hindsight, this was a purely political move, because the commission was an undertaking of the Arroyo administration.

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The calamity caused by the monsoon rains last week again provides the national government with the opportunity to finally address long-standing issues regarding flooding in Metro Manila. It must realize that while the funding needs for doing so will be large, the cost of doing nothing will be even larger.

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TAGS: `pepeng’, economic costs, editorial, flood control program, Ondoy, Post-Disaster Needs Assessment
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