By CARLOS H. CONDE
MANILA �� It is an essential part of survival that people learn from every calamity, particularly the mistakes that may have contributed to it or its high cost. Here, some experts suggest ways to move forward after Ondoy.
Fouad Bendimerad, chairman of the Earthquakes and Megacities Initiative:
It’s time now to really look at the risks Metro Manila is facing and have some plans that look at extreme events like floodings, earthquakes and other risks. Have something comprehensive that everybody could rely on for the best science. We need something comprehensive. It has to become a priority. Metro Manila should be a priority.
In the immediate, it is important to document what happened. We should clearly document it, every detail of it: what areas were flooded, how much damage. So that we know what is the level of threat, the actual conditions. We have to interview people and collect data.
This documentation is important because events (like Ondoy) are rare and when they happen, we tend to go and clean and rebuild and we forget to document. So all the information are lost. And we later repeat the same mistakes. For instance, some only had small water level, others did not. We have to know why and understand and map them to the detail.
We also need to understand what was the response and how did we do in critical services. For instance, how did the hospital and health-care facilities performed? What were the issues, the problems? So we can learn form this and prepare better, so urban planners, land-use planners would know which areas to deal with.
Once we have the science and knowledge, we will understand. This is an opportunity. Hopefully, we won’t miss this opportunity.
Arjun Thapan, director-general, Southeast Asia Department, Asian Development Bank:
This is something that cannot be addressed immediately. It requires time and proper funding.
What the ADB is likely to do is to assist the two water concessionaires – Manila Water and Maynilad — to strengthen their abilities to collect and treat waste water. This is a one billion dollar investment of each concessionaire over the next 15 years. They really need to get their act together to make this investment happen.
What we must also realize is that there are 17 local governments in Metro Manila and they are individually and jointly responsible for their infrastructure. They have to get their act together.
But it’s not as if the local governments can do this on their own. There has to be civic participation.
The Metro Manila Development Authority also has to work with the local government units. It needs their support. The issue in Metro Manila is effective coordination.
Herminia Franciso, director, Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia, International Development Research Center:
Besides physical infrastructure, we should improve social infrastructure, which is equally important. I was at the airport when Ondoy struck and there was no advice that the situation was so serious. The communication system could have been better.
If you have the communications infrastructure, the early warning system and the flood alerts could have been relayed better. Pagasa’s signal 1, 2, 3 warnings are not that reliable anymore.
The telecommunications, for example, could be tapped to build this social networks, like relay stations.
But definitely, there is a need to improve the drainage and dike systems of Metro Manila.
The biggest challenge is so many people are blocking the drainage networks. Relocation should be part of the bigger plan. It should not be discarded as an option because that is something that is probably our only resort.
Meliton Juanico, urban and environmental planner and chairman of the Department of Geography, University of the Philippines:
One of the many things that the government can do now is to reforest the foot of the Sierra Madre mountain range and to declog the creeks that have been blocked by debris and solid waste.
Meggie Nolasco, spokesperson, the Philippine Climate Watch Alliance:
Government should prioritize the mitigation of climate-change effects and adapt measures for affected communities, such as the construction of infrastructures like landslide-protection, flood-control, and riverbank-stabilization systems.
Gwendolyn Pang, secretary-general, Philippine National Red Cross:
We must invest money in disaster management. Rehabilitation is expensive. It costs less to be prepared.
We have a lot of work to do. We have to add to our response capability. We must invest in equipment and training.