Filipinos wade through a flooded street at the financial district of Makati, south of Manila, Philippines, on Tuesday, 20 August 2013. Photo: Aaron Favila / AP

22 August 2013

MANILA, Philippines, (AP) – Lashed each year by typhoons and stuck with outdated drainage systems, the Philippine capital has been hit by ever-worsening floods. Population growth, inadequate infrastructure, corruption, deforestation and even trash build-up combine to exacerbate the impact. It's a trend experts expect to continue.

Here's why:


Manila is located in a catch basin sandwiched between Manila Bay and Lake Laguna to the southeast. The city was built on waterways, canals and creeks that have for centuries channeled floodwaters into the sea.

But half the 40 kilometers (25 miles) of narrow waterways and canals that would drain rainwater — constructed and modified during the Spanish colonial period — have been lost, cemented or paved over, said architect and urban planner Paulo Alcazaren. Many of the remaining ones are clogged with garbage and ill-maintained, teeming with squatter colonies occupying riverbanks and coastal areas.

Much of Manila, once known as the "Pearl of the Orient," was lost in heavy bombardment at the end of World War II. The haphazard, poorly planned urban reconstruction coupled with the 10-fold jump in population to nearly 12 million today has severely strained the city's ability to cope with flooding.

The capital's flood control system is outdated, incomplete and poorly designed, said Felino Palafox, Jr., another urban architect who has closely studied flooding in Manila.

He said that starting in the 1970s, he and international development agencies had unsuccessfully called for the construction of a major spillway that would drain excess water during the typhoon season from Lake Laguna to Manila Bay. The lake has become heavily silted, decreasing its capacity to hold water and often overflows and floods outlying towns and cities, including Manila.

"There's no exit for water," Palafox said.


Each year, about 20 typhoons hit the country, and they have become stronger over the past decade, said Edna Juanillo, head of the Philippine government weather agency's climatology division. That prompted the agency about a decade ago to add a fourth category to public storm warning system for typhoons with sustained winds of more than 185 kilometers per hour (115 mph).

"It has not been concluded if this is caused by global warming and climate change, but we've been seeing more powerful tropical cyclones with winds of 150 kph and above in the last decade," Juanillo said.

Four of the strongest typhoons that hit between 2008 and 2012 caused damage of $2.2 billion compared to $828 million for the four of the most devastating typhoons between 1990-1998.

The most ferocious storm to ever hit Manila was Typhoon Ketsana in 2009, which dumped more than a month's worth of rain in 12 hours with floodwaters reaching 7 meters (23 feet). That and a second typhoon on its heels killed about 1,000 people and caused more than $1 billion in damage.

Last year, the annual monsoon and thunderstorms unleashed nonstop rains over eight days, flooding the same areas again, destroying thousands of homes, roads and submerging about 90 percent of Manila.

This week's deluge, brought by a monsoon and a tropical storm, dumped about the same amount rain as Ketsana but over 24 hours and wider area, submerging half of the city and shutting it down for two days. About a million people were affected.

Excessive logging on the Sierra Madre mountains north of the city has also made things worse. The rainwater rushes down the denuded slopes into the Pasig River, which runs through Manila and typically overflows. [more]

What's Making the Floods Worse in Manila?



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