4 Philippine cities urged to take steps to avoid Metro Manila’s urban blight, crisis

Posted on November 9, 2012

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MANILA, Philippines — Several of the country’s burgeoning urban centers need to take drastic steps to improve the way they expand to avoid committing the same city planning mistakes made in Metro Manila.

A new study by the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) and World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) urged policymakers from Cagayan de Oro, Dagupan, Laoag, and Zamboanga to address problems with flooding and other climate change-related risks, which could hold back economic development.

“There has to be a proactive reconfiguration in these areas. Much of the response to climate change in the Philippines has been reactive. But a lot of what we lose during storms can be avoided if we were more proactive,” WWF Philippines vice-chair Lorenzo Tan said.

According to the study, titled “Business Risk Assessment and Management of Climate Impacts,” cities need to form long-term master plans that can endure administration changes to combat the effects stronger and more frequent storms caused by global warming.

“Our population will increase by 14 million over the next decade. And more people will move to places where there is good weather and lots of land. With urbanization, our agriculture lands retreat,” he said.

Just like in Metro Manila, Tan noted deficiencies in the way zoning has been done in the cities covered by the study.

Cagayan de Oro, for instance, sits between two major watersheds. And due to its lower elevation, the Northern Mindanao city is also prone to flooding given its proximity to the higher-situated Bukidnon.

Dagupan also sits in a water basin where most of the rain coming from Baguio City runs to. The city also relies too much on water pumped from the ground. “The city is literally sinking. Those are the words of its mayor,” Tan said.

Laoag, meanwhile, is situated near a riverbank prone to swelling during bad weather conditions. And while the city is known for its production of vegetables and other agricultural products, the shipment of its goods are often hampered during strong rains that causes flooding on the highway leading to the main market of Metro Manila.

Another pattern that emerged was the problem with managing water supply. He said that Laoag, like most urban centers, has been relying on underground wells as their main source of water.

“This is the exact opposite of what should be happening,” he said, adding that rain water should be the main source for cities.

“We lose 70 percent of our rainwater to the sea. The priority should be rain water, then surface water, and then ground water. But in the Philippines, ground water is the number one source,” Tan said.

Tan said the study suggested various solutions to specific problems for every city. For Laoag, for instance, the city’s local government push for the construction of a new highway impervious to the effects of floods, so as not to put the city’s income at the mercy of the weather.

All cities in the list should also identify flood-prone areas and immediately ban any commercial or residential developments in those areas.

“A climate-defined future will be a highly variable future. Economic patterns, which define each city, will be rocked by increasing unpredictability,” Tan said.

“Success can be achieved by capitalizing on development opportunities and mastering supply and demand. Instead of concentrating on best practices, let us opt for next practices,” he said. / INQUIRER

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