manila bay land subsidence

Land subsidence and the recent metro flooding

The obligation to endure gives us the right to know – Jean Rostand.

The right to know.

The wreck left by disasters (particularly Ondoy and Megi and now flooding from the “typhoon with no name”) are in a way making public what have been given extra care to hide – the general neglect of protecting communities. Following the line of many Filipinos’ fondness of attaching religious meaning to the most basic natural phenomenon as rain, I’d say disasters are heaven’s jolts of thunder on the backs of a people too silent over the effects of government’s over long neglect.

Like land subsidence. Do people, especially those in the flooded CAMANAVA areas, know that in the northern part of Manila Bay “excessive groundwater extraction is lowering the land surface by several centimetres to more than a decimetre per year”? (Rodolfo, Kelvin S. and Siringan, Fernando P. Global sea-level rise is recognised, but flooding from anthropogenic land subsidence is ignored around northern Manila Bay, Philippines. 2006)

While living (because of work) in the metro, among the things I think about standing teeny weeny against skyscrapers at Ayala Avenue is how the aggregate weight of infrastructures, transportation, and people must be bearing on the land. And the water that these need, water which is extracted from underground. Imagine the volume being pumped out every day for years and increasing each year. I don’t venture too deeply into my imagined reality because it looked scary.

Hearing about the recent floods (again), I thought about (apart from increasingly visible impacts of climate change) that image I had of the metro. A sinking metro. And indeed yes it is. The study was published (ironically abroad, by Blackwell Publishing in the UK) in 2006 and unless I wasn’t here then I haven’t heard about it at least via wide public dissemination.

I first became aware of sinking land in Baguio, in the 1990 earthquake. Right after the earthquake, my classmates and I (we weren’t able to get home in time) camped in Melvin Jones. I can’t look at Melvin Jones without hearing in my mind the despairing and undulating collective moans of people there when the aftershocks came. The cries timed with the rippling waves (aftershocks) we felt underneath the land. These rippling waves-aftershocks were more frightening than the earthquake itself- it was when people shouted it was the end of the world, because you’d think at some point during the aftershocks the ground was going to split open and swallow us all. I realized then that the ground beneath was not rock solid, it felt (via the waves) loamy. Thus, I thought, capable of sinking. (Well yes I had my wits with me – I think it’s my own coping mechanism, that the more disastrous the situation the calmer and the clearer my thought process gets.) Nowadays, I see parts of the sidewalk pavements along Session Road sinking.

Back to the study. The authors say that “such ignorance allows the government to treat flooding as a lesser problem that can be mitigated through large infrastructural projects that are both ineffective and vulnerable to corruption” and that “money would be better spent on preventing the subsidence by reducing groundwater pumping and moderating population growth and land use.” But, then “even if groundwater use is greatly reduced and enlightened land-use practices are initiated, natural deltaic subsidence and global sea-level rise will continue to aggravate flooding, although at substantially lower rates.” In short, adaptation (because the impacts are already here to stay).

Whose responsibility is it to inform the public of this? It should not anymore be contested (say in the Senate for 15 years) whether or not full disclosure is “right” because this case is likened to a stage three cancer. The sick patient has all the right to know in order that he or she or his or her family and relatives can decide what options to take, when there is still time (“you ain’t dead when you ain’t”). To delay the information even for a minute is years off the patient’s back.

And oh my goodness the residents in that area – don’t they at all try to know what’s making their area flood like that?

The relocation of squatters in those areas is not an option but it should be done. But first where to relocate the communities? In these instances, you don’t know whether to laugh or weep. Or, if you opt for one, to whom it should be directed at.