HELPLESS AQUINO MEN APPEAL FOR HELP
Lack of foresight, lax enforcement and political self-interest are behind the almost predictable yearly massive flooding in most parts of the country during a major downpour, an expert said as President Aquino’s role in his two years in power is increasingly becoming the focus of the recent disaster that hit most of Central Luzon, including Metro Manila, as a result of nearly two weeks of monsoon rains.
The deluge was compounded by a typhoon and torrential rains that have left 73 people dead across the Philippines.
Authorities appeared helpless with the vast devastation as they appealed yesterday for help in getting relief to two million people affected by deadly floods in and around the capital, warning that evacuation centers were overwhelmed.
After more than a month’s worth of rain was dumped on Manila in 48 hours, entire districts remained submerged although overflowing rivers had started to recede and neck-high waters seen earlier were typically down to knee deep.
The state weather service also dropped its rain warning yesterday afternoon for the sprawling city of 15 million people.
Deadly floods that have swamped nearly all of the Philippine capital are less a natural disaster and more the result of poor planning, experts say.
Damaged watersheds, massive squatter colonies living in danger zones and the neglect of drainage systems are some of the factors that have made the chaotic city of 15 million people much more vulnerable to enormous floods.
Urban planner Nathaniel Einseidel said the Philippines had enough technical know-how and could find the necessary financing to solve the problem, but there was no vision or political will.
“It’s a lack of appreciation for the benefits of long-term plans. It’s a vicious cycle when the planning, the policies and enforcement are not very well synchronized,” Einseidel, who was Manila’s planning chief from 1979 to 1989, said.
“I haven’t heard of a local government, a town or city that has a comprehensive drainage masterplan,” he added.
Eighty percent of the Manila was this week covered in waters that in some parts were nearly two meters (six and a half feet) deep.
The deluge was similar to the one in 2009 during typhoon Ondoy, a disaster which claimed more than 460 lives and prompted solemn pledges from government leaders to make the city more resistant to floods.
A government report released then called for 2.7 million people in shantytowns to be moved from “danger zones” alongside riverbanks, lakes and sewers.
The plan would affect one in five Manila residents and take 10 years and P130 billion to implement.
But Einseidel said that while there had been some efforts to relocate squatters, they never succeeded.
“With the increasing number of people occupying danger zones, it is inevitable there are a lot people who are endangered when these things happen,” he said.
Squatters, attracted by economic opportunities in the city, often build shanties on river banks, storm drains and canals, dumping garbage and impeding the flow of waterways.
“The same people who were already told not to return to the rivers and creeks and floodways are back. They are there again and they are the ones who don’t want to leave now.”
He blamed the phenomenon on poor enforcement of regulations banning building along creeks and floodways, with local politicians often wanting to keep squatters in their communities to secure their votes at election time.
Meanwhile, on the outskirts of Manila, vital forested areas have been destroyed to make way for housing developments catering to a growing middle and upper class, according to architect Paulo Alcazaren.
Alcazeren, who is also an urban planner, said the patchwork political structure of Manila had made things even harder.
The capital is actually made up of 16 cities and towns, each with its own government, and they often carry out infrastructure programmes — such as drainage and watershed protection — without coordination.
“The controls of physical development must not be dependent on political boundaries of towns and provinces,” he said.
“Individual cities can never solve the problem. They can only mitigate. If you want to govern properly, you must re-draw or overlay existing political boundaries.”
Solutions to the flooding will all require massive efforts such as re-planting the watersheds, building low-cost housing for the squatters and clearing drainage systems, the experts said.
“It will cost billions of pesos but we lose billions anyway every time it floods,” Alcazeren said.
Disaster chiefs said the top priority was to help the 1.95 million people affected by the floods, as masses flocked to evacuation centers in search of a dry place to sleep, food, water, medicine and clothes.
“We are repacking a lot of relief items, we need more help and are asking for more volunteers,” Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman said.
“We have the food but we need to pack them, deliver and distribute them in this massive operation.”
Soliman said many evacuation centers were not able to provide much-needed warm meals to the growing number of displaced.
The number of people in schools, gymnasiums and other buildings that had been turned into evacuation centers rose to 293,000 on Thursday, from 150,000 on Wednesday, according to the government’s disaster management council.
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of others were left largely to fend for themselves, seeking refuge with friends and relatives, or staying in partly submerged homes.
In the riverside district of Marikina, where massive squatter communities were inundated, some residents returned to their homes on Wednesday night only for another deluge to hit a few hours later and cause another flood spike.
One of those forced to evacuate once more, housewife Alona Geronimo, told Agence France Presse she and her neighbors were exhausted and feeling hopeless.
Geronimo said she had not been able to save anything in the floods.
“We have just the clothes on our backs. It was just like Ondoy,” she said, referring to a tropical storm in 2009 known as Ketsana in English that submerged 80 percent of Manila and killed 464 people.
Twenty people have died from this week’s rains in Manila and nearby provinces, according to authorities.
Meanwhile, vast amounts of garbage are dumped by a fast-growing population into drainage systems.
Aquino doesn’t seem to have had enough patience in hopping from one submerged Metro Manila city to another, as the “deeply concerned” President seen the previous day transformed into an impatient chief executive who went on to nag at stubborn residents whom he claimed has refused rescue efforts of the government during the height of the inclement weather that poured more rain than what was recorded for tropical storm Ondoy in September 2009.
In his third stop, Aquino found himself ranting at the displaced families from Barangay Bagong Silangan in Quezon City, even as he asked local folks to seriously consider help on those who are helping you”.
Citing instances based from reports reaching his desk, Aquino cited precious time that was wasted to families whom he claimed had to be fetched five times by rescuers, who are made to wait, unmindful of the risk the latter is exposed to while adding that more would have been assisted had they immediately agreed to be rescued.
In an apparent effort which tends to tell displaced families at the covered court utilized as temporary evacuation center, the Malacanang chief executive also said that the national government will give higher priority to rehabilitation efforts of the government to infrastructure destroyed or damaged by the monsoon rains.
Specifically, the President spoke of a program delving on a plan to retard upstream tributaries of Marikina River.
Earlier, Aquino visited Marikina City families adversely affected by the havoc wrought by the inclement weather and promised a long-term solution to the massive river swelling in place before he steps down in 2016.
Overall, the NDRRMC said that a total of 128 municipalities and 30 cities from six regions were affected by massive flooding, in some areas went as high as roofs, as intermittent heavy rains occurred Wednesday.
As of press time yesterday, Office of the Civil Defense-NCR director Susana Cruz reported that several areas in Metro Manila remained submerged under floodwater and a number of roads still impassable due to flooding.
In NCR alone, Cruz reported that a total of 33,087 families or 97,653 people were evacuated to safer grounds due to flooding.
Cruz, however, noted improving conditions in Metro Manila as the weather started to improve yesterday.
Metro Manila received the biggest slice due to the extent of damage. In its latest bulletin, NDRRMC said there were 1,953,481 flood victims – from the Ilocos Region, including heavily populated Pangasinan, Central Luzon, Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon), Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon, and Palawan), Western Visayas and Metro Manila.
The capital city itself has been placed under a state of calamity as have been other towns and cities in the national capital region as well as some areas north and south of the capital.
States of calamity have been declared in Marikina, Malabon, Navotas, Valenzuela, Muntinlupa, San Juan, Pasig, Pasay, Caloocan and Pateros in Metro Manila; the provinces of Bataan, Bulacan, Pampanga and Zambales in Region III; Laguna in Region IV-A; and in the Palawan municipalities of Culion, El Nido and Linacapan in Region IV-B.
Under a state of calamity, the government will be able to impose automatic price controls in affected areas until such time as the situation normalizes. Price freeze, according to officials, could stay as long as 60 days. with AFP