Caught (up) in traffic

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Traffic and flooding

August 2011
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Metro Manila and other cities around the country are again in the headlines because of flooding brought about by strong rains. Rains are not new to the Philippines and there are many articles (and blogs) that have been written about the history of flooding in the Philippines. Some even feature old photos or caricatures showing how life was during the Spanish and American periods when floods also occurred, probably due to similar strong rains brought about by the monsoons or by the typical typhoons that regularly visit the country during the wet season.

In those times many years ago, the subject of drainage has already been mentioned and there is evidence that certain infrastructure were constructed to address the problems of flooding. In fact, the esteros that we presently associate with informal settlers and garbage were man-made waterways that functioned as open channels that could alleviate flooding in times of heavy rains. These waterways also functioned as transport facilities as they were constructed wide enough for boats to travel along the network of esteros that also connected with the Pasig River. These were not so different as the waterways that are now being used in Bangkok that have significant commuter and even goods traffic. There are many photos of these esteros as they were back in the Spanish and American periods. There are even more recent postwar photos that allow for comparison with photos at present. Unfortunately, I cannot post these here as there may be IP issues involved. Nevertheless, one can use your preferred search engines to find and view these photos.

Through the years, however, these esteros have been neglected and, as more and more squatters came to construct their shanties above the channels and tons of garbage disposed of, they became clogged and thus resulting to flooding in many parts of Manila. The esteros, however, are not wholly to blame when the subject of floods come up every now and again. It is a fact that the drainage systems of Metro Manila and other Philippine cities are already quite antiquated and their designs cannot accommodate the amounts of rainfall experienced these days. This is the result perhaps of poor planning and even more due to the neglect of national and local governments. And so we now experience floods almost each time we have significant rainfall. In some areas, the floods do not recede until after the wet season is over. Such is the sad plight of many Filipinos who are reduced to prayers and tests of faith if only to assure themselves that things will improve – some day.

Meanwhile, other cities have engaged similar flooding problems head-on and have invested on solutions that have saved their cities from much of the costs due to damages brought about by floods. Among those cities is Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia where they constructed a tunnel that is usable as part of their drainage system as well as a highway. Kuala Lumpur’s SMART Motorway Tunnel is an example of an engineering solution that could help alleviate flooding in Metro Manila. It is quite costly, with construction amounting to about USD 514.6 million at the time of its completion in the first quarter of 2007 with construction starting about 4 years earlier in 2003. Much has been written about this infrastructure and its benefits. It has saved KL and Malaysia from potentially disastrous flooding so many times now since its opening. Was it worth it? No doubt our Malaysian friends with tell us it is and will continue to save them from more floods years from now. Thus, the cost of such projects can easily be justified and the return in investment will be quite quick given the costs of flooding that have been compiling these past years including 2009’s Ondoy (Ketsana). In fact, KL’s SMART Motorway Tunnel is part of its tollway system and was built using a public-private partnership (PPP) arrangement that is much like what the current administration is preaching.

Perhaps its not yet too late for Metro Manila and other Philippine cities? Maybe we should get our acts together in finding and contributing to solutions that also address multiple problems facing our cities in this era of climate change and extreme weather conditions.


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