Flooding has been a perennial problem in many countries. This is made worse by climate change. How do households and governments adapt to these events?
I could not access the internet for the past two days due to service interruption probably caused by the strong typhoon code named ‘Maring” and southwest moonsoon referred to as ‘Habagat’ by the locals. The heavy fall of rain inundated many parts of northern, central, and southern Luzon in the Philippines affecting many residents living in those areas. The rising tide and release of impounded water in large hydroelectric dams worsened flooding in areas where the waters flow.
According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), the calamity affected more than 1.7 million people where 17 died, 41 got injured and 5 persons were missing. Many of these people stayed in evacuation centers after the raging waters submerged their houses and damaged their belongings.
Significant changes may have been made to mitigate the effects of flooding because the death toll this week is lesser compared to that of Typhoon Ondoy or Ketsana in 2009 that caused the death of more than 300 persons. Apparently, the people as well as the government may have learned to adapt from experience and prepare for such disasters which seem to get worse.
Climate change is believed to be the primary cause of typhoon severity in the past few years. Despite the controversies associated with climate change, I adopt the side of those practicing the precautionary principle, i.e., it is better to adopt a policy that addresses an environmental problem than having to suffer the consequences of not taking action. Thus, I incorporate climate change in the following subtitles on people and government’s adaptation to large-scale flooding as a result of climate change.
Household Adaptation to Climate Change
While hundreds of people frantically moved to evacuation centers in response to early warnings from NDRRMC, still many others stuck it in their homes saying they are already used to these events and had, in fact, undertaken measures to adapt and survive. Residents even enjoyed the storms, frolicking, jumping in waist deep waters, and laughing it out while taking certain precautions by wearing hard hats and life vests (see video).
Of course, their behavior exposes them to yet another danger, i.e., leptospirosis (a disease caused by water contaminated by excrements of rats or other animals), the possibility of raging waters once the nearby dam releases excess waters in the reservoir, alienation from nearby sources of food if rains continue, exposure to toxic substances that may go with the waters, among others.
Other household adaptations to flooding include adding second floors to homes, modified transportation vehicles, makeshift rafts, thigh high boots, plastic bottles connected together, airbeds deployed as rafts, rubber boats, among others. Many of these household level flood adaptations are inexpensive, largely makeshift, or temporary solutions to flooding.
I have not seen a household flooding adaptation on the long-term such as a house on log I saw many years ago in a periodically flooded marsh of Agusan. Of course, having a log house in the middle of the city is absurd but I believe households can come up with long-term solutions to their problems. Relocation to elevated areas, after all, appears to be the best thing households can do. This may mean they will have to forgo their life in the urban centers and live in the hills.
Government Adaptation to Climate Change: Critique and Suggested Solutions
If communities cannot effectively adapt to flooding, then the government must take steps to aid its citizens. Disaster relief operations always follow calamities like this. This approach, however, is at best palliative. Prevention is always a better approach than cure.
While flooding is a natural event, the government can still do something about it. It can be avoided or minimized to some extent by good environmental planning and action. Good planning and policy can prevent costly impacts of flooding.
In an effort to prevent the costly impact of typhoons, administrators and planners are looking into the contribution of poor drainage, indiscriminate throwing of non-biodegradable wastes as well as buildings that block waterways, and even corruption as unsolved problems that impact on effective flood management.
Planners in government believe that making infrastructures that promote drainage can help alleviate the problem on flooding. Without incorporating ecological principles, however, this may just be a hit-and-miss approach.
In reality, there is a limit to what a good drainage system can do because Metro Manila was historically a marshland. Flooding is a natural process in wetlands. Cities built on wetlands destroyed a very important ecological function, i.e., flood control. Nature must take its course and repeat the same process (i.e. flooding) when loaded with lots of rainfall. This requires environmental planning that accommodates the role of marshlands: clearing the waterways, leaving existing wetlands as it is, or developing subdivisions away from the natural courses of water.
This entails much cost but the benefits may be weighed against the costs. The impact of climate change appears to worsen each year and investments along this line can prevent future tragedies.
Indiscriminate throwing of wastes that block waterways
Blocked waterways reduces the speed by which water flows to low level areas. Tons of plastic or non-biodegradable wastes still clog the drains. This is made worse by buildings blocking the waterways. This means that in general, many of the citizens still do not adopt good practices in disposing their solid wastes, and city zoning policies are not being followed.
While an appeal to the public to stop them from throwing wastes indiscriminately may work, economic incentives in the form of fines, seems to be a better option. This also requires a vigorous information and dissemination campaign (IEC) to educate the people about the impact of their action to the environment and themselves.
Corruption was factored in the flooding prevention equation because a sizable part of the 10 billion pesos in Priority Development Assistance Fund or PDAF (widely know as pork barrel funds) was diverted to questionable projects of non-existent non-government organizations (NGOs). Only a handful of corrupt officials benefited from such allocations through kickbacks and commissions of up to 45%. A large amount of these funds were earmarked to fund flood control projects.
The government is hot on the heels of the culprits although there are evidences that this corrupt practice have been going on for decades despite rules, regulations and policies that aimed to lower the incidence of this age-old practice. Corruption has been culturally ingrained and became a ‘normal’ part of people’s lives since time immemorial.
A friend and I once brainstormed to find out the underlying cause of corruption. We created a problem tree and arrived at the root cause — GREED.
Thus, the solution to this problem lies at the very foundation of one’s value system. Change must come from within the person.
Successful adaptation to climate change entails effective responses at household or community levels backed by a supportive government. The nature of this adaptation could be short-term or long-term. Well-informed government policies on climate change adaptation strategies appears most critical in providing long-term solutions to avert tragic consequences.
1. Reyes-Palanca, Z. (2013, August 23). ‘Maring’ leaves 17 dead, 41 injured. Retrieved August 23, 2013, from http://www.journal.com.ph/index.php/news/top-stories/56739-maring-leaves-17-dead-41-injured
2. Agence France-Presse. (2009, October 9). Death toll from Ondoy rises to 337. Retrieved August 23, 2013, from http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/nation/10/09/09/death-toll-ondoy-rises-337
3. Novitzki, R., Smith, R., and J. D. Fretwell. Wetland functions, values, and assessment. Retrieved August 23, 2013, from http://water.usgs.gov/nwsum/WSP2425/functions.html
4. La Viña, T. (2013, August 6). Investigating the pork barrel scandal. Retrieved August 23, 2013 from http://manilastandardtoday.com/2013/08/06/investigating-the-pork-barrel-scandal/
© 2013 August 23 P. A. Regoniel