The Philippines government is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in anti-flood infrastructure in the Manila area in a bid to protect against the storms, typhoons and floods which displace thousands and kill hundreds every year, officials say.
According to the Department of Budget and Management, President Benigno Aquino's government has earmarked about US$629 million to build and strengthen dykes, dredge heavily silted rivers and waterways and install pumps in strategic locations around the capital Manila, as well as select areas elsewhere in the country.
"The Aquino administration recognizes the importance of implementing flood mitigation and management programmes to avert disastrous flooding," Aquino spokeswoman Abigail Valte told IRIN.
Aquino earlier this month approved a "Flood Management Master Plan" and appropriated funds for its implementation.
The first phase of this 2012-2035 plan, which ends next year, involves "the improvement of various flood ways, drainage systems and water capacities" in Manila and frequently flooded surrounding suburban areas.
Among the things envisaged in the plan - details of which have been seen by IRIN - are water impounding projects in critical watersheds; the clean-up of nearly 200 creeks and estuaries across Manila; community-based and online (real-time) systems designed to provide a six-hour warning to communities at risk of flooding; and the installation of more than 61,000 automated rain gauges and about 500 water-level monitoring stations in 1,800 major river basins countrywide, with the focus on the main island of Luzon.
Flooding in August on Luzon (including Manila) which killed nearly 100 people and forced more than half a million to seek temporary shelter, was a timely reminder of the country’s weak flood infrastructure system.
Three years ago, similar floods triggered by two tropical cyclones killed about 1,000 people, affected millions and cost the country an estimated $4.3 billion in economic damage, according to the World Bank.
Current drainage and sewerage systems dating back to the 1950s are now perennially clogged and normally only work at less than 50 percent of capacity.
Officials said part of the new plan would also address the relocation of tens of thousands of families in shanty towns built dangerously near waterways and catchment areas - a politically sensitive issue in one of Asia's most free-wheeling democracies.
"There needs to be political will to implement all of these plans. We are just sinking and sinking every year," lamented Benito Ramos, head of the country's civil defence office. "Now is the time to put in place all these systems to limit damage and death."
According to a Reuters report, the government has set aside over $8 billion for infrastructure expenditure in 2012.