Senator Loren Legarda, Chair of the Senate on Climate Change, yesterday conducted a hearing on the state of disaster risk in the Philippines in light of last week’s devastating floods in Luzon and Western Visayas.
Legarda emphasized the need to examine weaknesses in governance, especially in Metro Manila: poor implementation of environmental laws, inadequate action in dredging rivers, the conversion of watersheds into housing development, a growing number of informal structures on riverbanks and esteros, faulty design of flood control infrastructure, and inefficiency in flood mitigation operations.
Because evidence suggests that extreme weather conditions are here to stay, Legarda stated that disaster prevention, more than disaster response preparedness, must become the new norm.
“We need to follow laws, use technology to our advantage, bear in mind our growing population, and make sure that we have the information to be able to make quick and sound decisions. We must improve governance to avert widespread flooding,” she said during a press conference.
“I agree with MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino that Metro Manila cannot be completely free from flooding, but that does not mean we are helpless. We have to determine the causes of flooding. First, Metro Manila is highly congested with very little green spaces. Second, esteros, canals, lakes, and rivers are all obstructed due to the demands of the growing population for structures. Third, there is ground subsidence, which is a natural occurrence aggravated by the over-extraction of groundwater and due to heavy structures we have built on soft soil. Fourth, the implementation of our laws has been very lax. All these factors contribute to a high-risk environment and we must undertake measures necessary to address these problems and minimize the incidence of flooding in Metro Manila,” she explained.
“According to Dr. Fernando Siringan of the UP Marine Science Institute, our lakes and rivers are getting smaller due to settlements and other effects of human activities. We need to widen these waterways as a measure to prevent flooding. Perhaps we need to look at these more basic solutions as well, in addition to our seawalls, water pumps, and infrastructure designed to combat flooding,” she said.
Legarda added that because many areas are literally sinking centimeter by centimeter, if not meter by meter, every year which contributes to more intense flooding, flood control projects should take this into account.
As author of RA 9003 or the Solid Waste Management Act, she also stressed upon the need for every community’s garbage problems to be addressed through proper segregation, recycling, and utmost discipline.
“In the end, it comes back to us. We must effectively implement laws, update and comply with our comprehensive land use plans, clear our waterways, and fully understand that we cannot continue to abuse our environment if we want to become truly disaster resilient. We all want to be resilient to natural hazards, but we cannot achieve this without proactive, informed, and consistent efforts in addressing heightened challenges,” Legarda concluded.***