When development is good for the environment
The recent floods spawned by the monsoon rains that hit Metro Manila and parts of Central Luzon have triggered widespread finger-pointing. Many were quick to blame the squatters who had built their shanties along the banks of rivers, creeks and estero. The problem has become an urban nightmare prompting the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and its 16 cities and one municipality to agree to relocate some 100,000 squatter families by 2016. But who is to blame for the spread of squatter colonies? Poverty and that stupid Lina Law which should be repealed.
Others blamed real estate developers who constructed projects along waterways. Critics say these projects have constricted the flow of water, resulting in the buildup of water volume during heavy rains. The spillover from these waterways cause floods, they say.
Still others blamed the garbage thrown by irresponsible people for the clogging of the drainage system.
It is not hard to understand the flooding problem in areas like Metro Manila. Some areas like Malabon, Navotas and Valenzuela are below sea level at high tide. Others like Manila and Quezon City are victims of clogged waterways. Cities like Marikina and Pasig are hostaged by the rivers that flow through them.
Floods are a combination of nature and manmade mistakes. We denude our mountains so that erosion sets in. We make our rivers and other waterways our garbage dumps. Erosion, siltation and garbage raise the riverbed levels, thus drastically reducing the carrying capacity of waterways. The result is massive flooding.
MMDA Chair Francis Tolentino admitted before the Senate that Metro Manila can never be 100-percent flood-free, although he said it can be “flood resilient.”
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources was more blunt: River Basin Control Director Vicente Tuddao Jr. said Metro Manila has no comprehensive drainage plan. He said Metro Manila has only one natural drain—Pasig River. But because it is already heavily silted and squatter colonies line its banks, Pasig River no longer has sufficient capability to drain its tributaries like Marikina River.
The case of Marikina River, however, can serve as an example of how to address the flooding that swamps Marikina during heavy rains.
Marikina Mayor Del de Guzman blamed developers like Ortigas & Co. for the city’s flooding woes. He said Ortigas’ residential project called Circulo Verde along the bank of Marikina River in Bagumbayan, Quezon City, constricts the flow of water in the river. Circulo Verde is located just across the Manggahan floodgates.
A quick check confirms that Ortigas does have a project there. It is located on the riverbank, at the bend of the river that surrounds the property. Ortigas has owned the site since 1904 as part of the bigger Hacienda de Mandaloyon which spanned what is now Quezon City, San Juan and Mandaluyong. The project site used to be the Concrete Aggregates plant of Ortigas, which is to be redeveloped into a high-rise condominium enclave.
Ortigas furnished us maps and photographs showing its property line and where it has started to construct a 1.5-kilometer river wall around its property. According to its development plan for Circulo Verde, Ortigas is actually widening the river because it has to dredge the silt and garbage that have accumulated along the banks around the property.
Ortigas said that by constructing its riverwall—at a cost of P300 million—it will increase the average width of the river by 45 percent, from 46.81 meters (current) to 68 meters. The narrowest width will increase from just 16 meters to 41.8 meters, and at the widest from 84 meters to 104.98 meters. It will also deepen the portion of the river around Circulo Verde by about 20 meters. The debris that will be cleared—25,000 cubic meters or 1,500 truckloads—are all silt caused by erosion and garbage.
Not all developments are good for the environment, but this is one example where development can benefit the environment. By widening and deepening the river—at its own expense—Ortigas, as a developer, claims it is helping address the flood problem of Marikina although it pays taxes in Quezon City.
A wider and deeper river can only mean a more efficient river flow. It is a case of urban development providing benefits where there were none before. If that parcel of land were left undeveloped and unattended, we can only imagine what that river bend would look like a few years from now. Most likely a mountain of trash and silt clogging the bend.
In fact, the banks of Pasig River, the Tenejeros-Tullahan River and other rivers should be redeveloped this way. At present, the banks of these rivers are unsightly backyards of factories and residential houses. The banks are also lined with squatter shanties that not only obstruct the flow of water; from the banks, residents throw their wastes into the rivers, thus polluting them.
If both banks of these rivers are developed into roads, the squatter shanties along their banks would have to be removed, and the dumping of wastes as well as the flow of effluents from factories into the rivers would be prevented. Besides, there will be more roads leading into the interiors of Metro Manila up to Laguna Lake.
Development of waterfronts is now the rage in the world. The riverbanks in Sydney, Australia, are now lined with the most high-priced residences in the city. Other examples of redeveloped waterfronts are in Baltimore, Maryland; London, England; Portland and Grand Haven, Michigan; Riverwalk in San Antonio, Texas; New Orleans; San Francisco and New York.
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