Eight months after successive storms and typhoons brought misery and death to the Philippines, people evacuated from areas prone to flooding have returned to rebuild shoddy structures that could again put their lives in danger as the country prepares for this year’s storm season.
Around Manila, destroyed shanties along spillways, tributaries and the country's largest lake have re-emerged largely because people have nowhere else to go. This scenario could have fatal consequences in a country battered by an average of more than 20 storms a year during the rainy season from now to January, disaster risk and urban planners say.
“Where do you expect the poor to go? We have no alternative but to rebuild and pray that the storms and floods will not be as bad this year,” said Teodosio Gacer, a community organizer at North Triangle, a 97ha slum with about 30,000 people north of Manila.
Living on the edge
About 35 percent of Manila's 12 million people live in slums that are vulnerable to natural disasters and disease.
Lying in the shadow of a huge shopping centre, North Triangle escaped heavy damage last year, although many families still sought temporary shelter. Other slums were wiped off the map in September when tropical storm Ketsana dumped the heaviest rains seen in more than 40 years and flooded about 80 percent of Manila.
A week later, typhoon Parma ravaged the northern part of Luzon Island, while a third typhoon, Mirinae, hit in early October. More than 1,000 people were killed and 10 million affected, according to government data. Many of those displaced have since returned to rebuild their homes in areas they were told to abandon, city and urban planners say.
Ketsana “should have served as a lesson, but unfortunately, what we are seeing now is that there appears to be no realization of the dangers," Robert Nacianceno, general manager of the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), said at a recent public forum on government flood-control preparations.
MMDA manages development in the Philippine capital and tries to ensure communities follow proper zoning and rubbish-disposal guidelines to avert the risk of flooding.
Photo: Jason Gutierrez/IRIN
|Two women and a child navigate a flooded street in suburban Pasig City at the height of tropical storm Ketsana|
"Part of the solution is to make sure that obstructions such as illegal houses and structures [along rivers and spillways] will be demolished," said Nacianceno, adding that crews have been trying to relocate people who have returned to dangerous areas in Manila.
Disaster waiting to happen
Meanwhile, more than 50,000 shanty towns have been illegally rebuilt in low-lying lakeshore communities, apparently with the tacit approval of local government officials, authorities overseeing Laguna Lake warned.
At 900 sqkm, Laguna Lake, the largest inland body of water in the country, spans six provinces and 61 towns and cities, including 29 lakeshore communities and many poorly planned enclaves and residential areas.
Rains brought by Ketsana caused the lake to burst its banks, and with canals and drainage systems clogged, water flowed into Manila’s smaller rivers and waterways, causing flooding. At the height of the storm, the lake's water level rose 14m to a 90-year high, authorities said.
"Officials in local governments of lakeshore communities need to start looking into this problem to prevent a repeat of last year. This is simply a disaster waiting to happen," said Edgar Manda, head of the Laguna Lake Development Authority.
Explosive urban growth could undermine disaster planning, said experts at the forum.
“Disaster risk has become, and will continue to be, an increasingly urban problem,” said Margareta Wahlström, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction at the meeting. “The largest and costliest disasters from the last 12 months affected cities where risk is concentrated.”
Figures released during the forum show that urban populations in developing countries have risen 77 percent in the last 10 years to nearly 2.6 billion, while the number of people living in urban slums surpassed 60 million during the same period.