Flooding and urban development

The last time I was in Davao City was 2003.  Then, its airport was not yet ‘international’.  The City now is significantly transformed, physically.  In the socio-cultural sense, there remains a rural-ness about it.  This may be the reason its people are still in awe of Metro Manila, a city in the physical, socio-cultural, and economic sense, despite their City being a metropolitan too.  But if it sustains its present growth momentum, there is no doubt the City will be as wholly urban as Metro Manila.  With its strategic location this is good for the region (Mindanao) and the country of course.

On my first day, having completed my work early, I decided to turn in early as well.  Up until I landed in the City that morning, I had been on the road from home 12 hours.  There’s a restaurant across the road from where I was billeted — convenient.  I went in at 4PM but the guard said they open at 5PM.  I returned then and I was its first customer.  I ordered the whole works:  entrée, main course (a pair of large grilled pork chops and unlimited rice), dessert, iced tea, coffee.  I looked up and thought I heard the question in the waiter’s mind.  I told him I was alone.  He nodded.  I hadn’t eaten breakfast and little for lunch.  For dinner, I could eat the table besides.

At 5:30PM, it started to rain.  It came down hard accompanied by its usual theatrics of thunder and lightning.  I was momentarily confused, thinking Typhoon Labuyo had followed me there.  But according to the waiter it was only a thunderstorm.  At 6:30, the heavy rain hasn’t abated and the stormwater had risen to mid-leg.  I thought it would subside fast enough once the rain stopped although I couldn’t help feel a sense of dread, déjà vu.  It reminded me of the flash flood in Metro Manila during Typhoon Ketsana.  By 7:30, I saw that the tires of sedan-type vehicles were submerged and the rain didn’t show signs of stopping soon.  I knew then we were in the middle of a flash flood.  At 8:30, I paid my bill and went out to the covered entrance.  The rain had abated slightly but the water wasn’t draining out.  The road had become a sea of dirty brown.  The water was thigh high.  I saw a few people, teachers by the look of them who were probably stranded, wading through, barefoot because they were holding their shoes.  I could do that but I didn’t bring an extra pair of shoes not even slippers and I had to travel very early the next day.  What will I use?  And my skin is susceptible to infections.  I decided not to risk one.  A young man from the restaurant was out on the road trying to get me a taxi — I’d have to go around the road to my place — but to no avail.  The taxis were all taken.  I was growing desperate and impatient by the second.  I thought of calling the service but the driver probably lived out of town.  I didn’t want to drag him out and besides my situation may not constitute an emergency – it’s not to me – so that’s out of the question.  Just before 10PM, a tricycle came in to deliver a couple of customers.  I don’t remember having felt so much relieved by the sight of a tricycle!  The driver asked me how much I was willing to pay him.  I said, my god man I’d probably give you all my money right now!

In the jumble of emotions — elation, relief, disbelief — I directed the driver to the wrong gate.  He was already out when I discovered my mistake.  My place was through the next gate and when I got there I saw the entry way submerged.  A man, who I later learned was the night watchman, told me I had no choice but to wade across.  I shouted back that I had no extra shoes and slippers.  He came over then and said if I was OK with it he’d carry me across.  What?  How?  Where?  The night was getting crazier by the hour.  After several minutes of cursing around in my head, I got on his back to the Centre.  In there, on my feet, I quickly locked away the embarrassment threatening to overcome me.  I swore the only time I piggy backed on another was on field work when I had an infection on my leg and we had to unexpectedly cross a not so clean river.  My colleague who carried me is gay.  But this was a stranger and didn’t look gay.  I was grateful to be distracted by the mess in the Centre.  Water had entered it, the rooms, everywhere.  I saw bits of leaves all over the floors.  I asked for a towel but he didn’t have the key to the store room.  OK, I said, what’s available?  He opened the cabinets.  Bed sheets.  I was too surprised to be angry.  I remembered when my colleagues and I had to spend the night on field.  We didn’t bring towels with us.  One colleague used his handkerchief.  One other colleague and I used our spare shirts.  But I was in a Centre.  It should have towels in them cabinets.  I was about to tell the man to check the cabinets again when a young man came in, another night watchman. He had the key to the store room.  I grabbed the largest towel.  I waited in the lobby until my room was cleaned and dry.  It was past midnight when I went in.  Talk of early!  And what a welcome shower party!  Ten years-worth!

That weekend as I was making my way out of Metro Manila the rain came down hard.  The rain lashed out all the way to Baguio.  Another typhoon (Maring/Trami) had landed.  A couple of days after, the Metro was submerged, again.

My experience of the flash flood in Davao City (along with the recurrent flooding in Metro Manila and Laguna as well as urbanizing towns in Tarlac and Pangasinan) validates what’s being taught in urban and environmental management and planning courses:  land use changes relative to urban development affects the hydrological cycle.

via CA WALUP Partnership
via CA WALUP Partnership
via CA WALUP Partnership
via CA WALUP Partnership

The 2009 flood hazard map of Metro Manila shows that the entire region (NCR) is a floodplain, with certain areas more susceptible.  It’s now 2013.  There have been significant changes in the Metro’s landscape since 2009 — new structures and developments — and these may have made the place more vulnerable especially if there are no mitigation measures in place.

On my second day in Davao, after work, I hired a taxi and went around the CBD.  You could see that there are no storm water drainage even within some of the new developments.  Water is just let off to drain on the streets.  Entrance and exit ways of some of the buildings are open, which implies that owners do not have their customers in mind considering that this country is visited by typhoons for most of the year.  Most have no proper entry ways for incoming/outgoing traffic to the buildings.  But what’s not readily visible is, did construction disturb the soil and natural flow of underground water?  If so, what was done by the builder to mitigate these?  These are basic in the plans.  The question then is how come these plans were approved when basic and mitigating structures or facilities are not identified?  Or, how come these developments were allowed to continue when basic and mitigating structures were not built as planned?  And did developers consider the City’s hazard maps?

At this point I recall when in my past employ we had this experience with the Japanese who partly funded a first of its kind infrastructure for young people.  The managers from our side came out of that partnership a bit traumatized which they attributed to their first-hand experience of the work ethics the Japanese are famous for.  During the construction, the Japanese regularly sent in their people to monitor for quality.  During a visit, the Japanese monitors found some discrepancies and recommended that portion of the building to be torn down and reconstructed.  The managers from our side were horrified and scrambled to the field to validate.  To people whose minds are set to “pwede na” the discrepancies could pass through, which was what happened.  The Japanese were furious.  Several negotiation meetings and migraines after, that part of the building was torn down and rebuilt as was the recommendation, not to mention that it was at our organization’s expense (because the monitors on our side overlooked the discrepancies).  The amount was considerable and management was on its hands and feet looking where to get it from (they can’t ask international HQ because it would ask the Japanese and the Japanese will point back at us and so make the whole affair more complicated).  Luckily there were savings (which were intended to fund employees’ bonus that year as we haven’t received one for so long; it wouldn’t surprise me if the rebuilt portion of that building shatter under the withering looks of hundreds of these disappointed employees.).  “Pwede na” or mediocrity is indeed costly.  Applied to the flash floods, millions or billions in losses not to mention lives.  It pays to do things right the first time every time.

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