MANILA, Philippines ? The flood disaster that struck Metro Manila over the weekend was not an act of God but a sin of omission by government and private real estate developers, according to urban planner Felino ?Jun? Palafox.
The green architect said that a land use plan that took floods into consideration was drawn up as far back as 1977, titled ?Metro Manila Transport, Land Use and Development Planning Project,? sponsored by the World Bank.
Palafox said that the study had already noted the possibility of heavy flooding in at least three sites of urban growth in the Philippine capital?the Marikina Valley and its northern and southern parts.
?When I saw the damage caused by the floods recently, I realized that these were the same areas that had already been identified,? he told the Inquirer.
?Urban development is spreading into areas which are, in their present state, unsuitable for development?either because they are low-lying and liable to flooding, or because development is without adequate facilities for the treatment and disposal of sewage (the norm in Manila) and so will continue to contribute to the severe pollution of areas such as Laguna de Bay,? the study said.
But what did government do to mitigate the flooding and other problems identified by the 1977 study?
Nothing, according to Palafox.
Need for spillway
?This is not an act of God, as what people have already said. This is a sin of omission on the part of government and leadership. Practically all the measures outlined in the study could have addressed the flooding we are seeing these days,? he said.
For one, there was little infrastructure to prevent flooding. Palafox cited the need to construct a spillway in Parañaque to drain excess water from Laguna Lake to Manila Bay.
?The Manggahan floodway was constructed to drain floodwater from the mountains flowing through the Marikina River into the Laguna Lake. But what happens when the Laguna Lake is overflowing? That is why there was a need for the Parañaque spillway to direct excess water from the lake into the Manila Bay,? he said.
But he said the government never constructed the spillway. ?I don?t know why,? said Palafox, who earned a degree on urban planning from Harvard. ?But you don?t need an engineer to understand this.?
Palafox also said that the study proposed desilting the Pasig and Marikina Rivers to accommodate more water. ?What should have been done was to use the silt and mud collected from the river to construct ?green islands? just like in Holland.?
The green islands should have been constructed at the mouths of the rivers and could be used for ?recreational purposes? like parks, arboretums and sports arenas. ?You let these islands settle, say after 15 years. Then you can use them for industrial purposes like oil depots.?
Erase parts of capital
If he were to redesign Metro Manila, Palafox said he would take a ?big eraser? and wipe out parts of Metro Manila in the east, north and south, where development did not conform to standards, particularly the construction of housing below the flood lines.
?Government knows what the flood lines are. Why did developers of subdivisions allow construction of housing projects below the flood lines?? he asked.
Palafox said corruption might have come into play because it would take the approval of 32 agencies to sign papers for land development and 12 agencies just to do one building.
He recalled that he did some development in the portion of the Nile near Khartoum in Sudan where the construction was done well above the flood lines.
Also, there is a chronic lack of foresight in the land development with developers looking only beyond 25 years of flood history.
?The international standard is to look at the flood history of the past 500 years, like the Khartoum project,? he said.
If he had his way, Palafox said he would have planned out Metro Manila according to plans by American architect Daniel Burnham in 1905.
According to Palafox, Burnham envisioned a Manila designed the same way as Paris, built near the Seine River, and Venice with its waterways.
?In Venice, you work on the first floor and live on the second floor,? he said.
Other recommendations in the plan included the construction of catch basins under buildings that could collect rainwater for recycling or for flowing into rivers.
Also, Palafox recommended the building of houses on stilts to go above the flood lines, just like the Badjaos.
In addition to the lack of foresight, there was also a chronic oversight by government over the years on the issue of garbage and illegal logging.
?The pressures for development in areas unsuitable for development exist and will continue to exist, and without action, high and unnecessary environmental, social and economic costs will be incurred,? the study said.