Smart tunnelBy Radel Paredes
Cebu Daily News
Ihave a strange fascination for subways and tunnels. They seem to me a symbol of technological advancement. Modern cities always tend to build a network of tunnels.
Preparing for war, Britain built the London Underground, a vast train subway network that doubles as a bomb shelter. Indeed, it saved many civilian lives during the Nazi air raids.
Berlin too used its huge underground drainage system as a bomb shelter during the Second World War. Even Hanoi, rushed the digging of a subterranean city to save its citizens from the rain of bombs dropped by American B52s during the Vietnam War.
In the Philippines, the Americans took shelter in tunnels in Corregidor during weeks of seemingly incessant shelling by the Japanese forces during World War II. They stayed in this impregnable bomb shelter until finally surrendering to the Japanese.
The anxiety of the Cold War made building subway-bomb shelters a must for countries involved in the so-called “nuclear stalemate”. Civil defense permeated even popular culture resulting in a sudden demand for do-it-yourself or readymade fallout shelters and emergency kits.
Not being an industrialized country and having a strong collective sense of fatalism (our “bahala na” habit), the Philippines never saw the need to build an underground railway that would serve as a bomb shelter during emergencies. This despite the widely known fact that during the Cold War when we still hosted American military bases in Subic and Clark, Soviet nuclear missiles were targeted at us.
Last year, I had the chance to pass through Malaysia’s longest subway in Kuala Lumpur, which is nearly ten kilometers long. It looks like a simple underground roadway much like our own subway here in Cebu, built to ease aboveground traffic.
But as the taxi driver explained, this tunnel served as an emergency drainage when the two big rivers of Klang and Kerayong in Kuala Lumpur would overflow after days of constant raining, causing flashfloods to drown the city as it always happened before.
Called a Stormwater Management and Road Tunnel or SMART tunnel, it has openings that permit water from the river to enter it and be diverted away from the city. An early warning system closes the tunnel from vehicular traffic before water from the river is allowed to flow into it.
The SMART tunnel is calculated to take in enough water from six days of rain. Since it began operation, the tunnel has prevented catastrophic flashfloods, ending a serious problem that has been besetting KL residents for decades.
This was the ultimate payoff for the more than USD $500 million that the government invested in the project. It first seemed an over-ambitious project that would drain the city of its funds.
Malaysia, after all, seemed to have this tendency to try to impress the world with megastructures since it built the Petronas Twin Towers. When the towers were finished, it became the tallest buildings in the world. Malaysia added an expensive monorail to its light rail transit system when all it actually needed is expand the LRT. Recently, the government housed itself in a new capital, the planned city of Putrajaya, which showcases Malaysia’s engineering and architectural marvels.
But the SMART tunnel is one megastructure that in no way reflects a mere “edifice complex”. It, in fact, symbolizes foresight and scientific thinking.
The recent flashfloods in Manila remind me of this lesson from Malaysia. No strategic solution has been pursued by our government after the 2009 Ondoy tragedy, when Manila first experienced a flood of Biblical proportion. There was talk of clearing the rivers of squatters and digging new waterways to divert floodwaters from the city to the sea. But so far, nothing happened after the interviews and speeches on TV.
What we have been doing are small solutions to big problems. This reflects, once again, our “culture of smallness”, as Nick Joaquin noted in a classic essay. We never seem to aspire for wholesale solutions to long term problems. We remain generally tactical and not strategic thinkers.
We are all aware that a catastrophe is forthcoming and understand the difficulty and cost of prevention. So every year, the government spends millions in rescue and rehabilitation in one disaster after another. Reports of big calamities and our inability to prevent them create an image of a nation that is unsafe for travel and investment. Small solutions lead to bigger problems.
So, at the first call for evacuation, we reach for our rosaries because there’s no emergency kit to grab.
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