Flood-proofing villages and households

By: Segundo Eclar Romero - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | November 20,2020 - 09:13 AM

One reason the ability of the government to cope with “Ulysses” and other calamities is overstretched is because people who should be able to help themselves, or help one another, do not do so.

The irony is that those middle-class people who put themselves at risk are best able to corner government assistance during calamities. They call the media, and/or they call their contacts in government, in the private sector, and other actors or intermediaries to help them. The poor do not have enough influential contacts to obtain the help they are most deserving of. If we keep doing things the same way, we cannot expect different results.

Building dikes along the Marikina River should be welcome. But what’s the point of building dikes that do not hold up to “Ondoy”-like disasters? The newly constructed dike was breached where it was needed most, on the Tumana area. In the end, the private benefits to the contractors, while real enough, are woefully illusory to the target beneficiaries, the people and cities along the Marikina River.

In Cagayan, there was so much ado about Magat Dam releasing water that contributed to the floods. But Magat Dam was simply a shortstop. If it did not exist, the same level of water would have inundated Cagayan Valley anyway. Magat Dam simply controls the release of water and does not manufacture the water. The blame should be redistributed across many factors. The question, of course, is: If Magat Dam released the water five days earlier, would the people of Cagayan have evacuated their homes and moved to evacuation centers on higher ground?

A sound strategy for dealing with future floods is to forget institutional (government) help for the moment and do “property level flood risk adaptation” (PLFRA). Build your houses on stilts made of reinforced concrete. This strategy is best illustrated by SM City Marikina, which designed its entire lower parking space to accommodate Ondoys and “Ulysses.” If staying on rooftops is the default survival strategy, do it well. Reinforce your home and build a third floor or a fourth floor, with a cement deck that will not crumble when you camp out there for three or four days. Actually, houses on stilts are the Filipinos’ traditional way of constructing houses. The Tausug in Tawi-Tawi and the Badjao in Iligan City do not complain that their houses sit on top of water. They are designed that way.

There are other PLFRA measures to avoid floodwaters. Wet flood-proofing measures refer to adapting building interiors such as elevating electric equipment to higher floors and installing sump-pumps to suck out the water. Dry flood-proofing measures include sealing building door and window openings (usually done clumsily using sandbags), waterproofing concrete, and using nonreturn valves to keep sewage out. If these measures are too expensive for you, the other option, of course, is to move out of flood-prone areas like “poor” Tumana and “rich” Provident Village. As for incoming buyers, beware. Don’t buy your next new home in these areas and thus take the risk, only to pass the burden and cost to the government when you are beleaguered.

For good measure, households should have a flotation device that the family can use. Forget the expensive rubber boats, but there is no reason one cannot acquire and store a bamboo raft. In 2011, after Ondoy, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Calabarzon and DOST Forest Products Research and Development Institute designed and developed bamboo rafts for flood rescue. To make a raft, 13 bamboo poles are tied together, making a 12-foot raft that can carry 300 to 1,000 kilograms of load. Wooden planks are attached across the poles to secure them together. The planks can be removed so the raft can be rolled like a mat, for easier transport. To protect the raft from rotting, each pole is treated with copper chrome arsenate, a water-based preservative. This way, the raft can last 10 years.

Apart from being an extra safety device for stranded families, bamboo rafts are better than rubber boats for rescue purposes. Actually, putting 12-foot bamboo rafts end to end creates perfect pontoon bridges for evacuating stranded families. Bamboo rafts can also be fitted with outboard motors, if necessary. The executive director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council at that time lauded this bamboo raft innovation, but why were these rafts not deployed big-time during Ulysses?

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