Deadly floods that have swamped nearly all of Metro Manila are less a natural disaster and more the result of poor planning, lax enforcement and political self-interest, experts say.
Damaged watersheds, massive squatter colonies living in danger zones and the neglect of drainage systems are some of the factors that have made the chaotic city of 15 million people much more vulnerable to enormous floods.
Urban planner Nathaniel Einseidel said the Philippines had enough technical know-how and could find the necessary financing to solve the problem, but there was no vision or political will.
A government report released then called for 2.7 million people in shantytowns to be moved from “danger zones” alongside riverbanks, lakes and sewers. The plan would affect one in five Manila residents and take 10 years and US$2.77 billion to implement.
But Einseidel said that while there had been some efforts to relocate squatters, they never succeeded.
“With the increasing number of people occupying danger zones, it is inevitable there are a lot people who are endangered when these things happen,” he said. “The same people who were already told not to return to the rivers and creeks and floodways are back. They are there again and they are the ones who don’t want to leave now.”
He blamed the phenomenon on poor enforcement of regulations banning building along creeks and floodways, with local politicians often wanting to keep squatters in their communities to secure their votes at election time.
Meanwhile, on the outskirts of Manila, vital forested areas have been destroyed to make way for housing developments catering to a growing middle and upper class, according to architect Paulo Alcazaren.