Between drought and the deluge
Friday night’s flooding, which caused some cars to be stalled or even literally submerged while thousands of commuters were stuck for hours in the rain, was a reminder once again of how those of us living in the big cities are increasingly vulnerable to this kind of disaster. And to think that was just about an hour’s worth of rain. The tropical storms that the weather bureau has predicted will come with the La Niña phenomenon have not even hit us yet.
When last Friday’s flash floods happened, I was with some of my co-faculty at the office in the university waiting for the water to subside and the traffic to clear. We killed time by doing some work, warming ourselves with coffee, and tuning in on the local radio and the social media for the latest on the road situation.
The street outside the campus was already flooded forcing some students to wade through knee-high water just to be able to chase the few jeepneys that were still running. We were shocked to see photos of that part in A.S. Fortuna street which seemed to have turned into a murky river with roofs of sunken cars barely visible.
One of the architecture professors who was with us recalled how that area used to have culverts that directed runoff water into a small creek that itself led into some nearby catchment like a natural pond or lagoon. This was during the ‘80s and residents there as well as commuters plying that street did not experience serious flooding yet.
But as that area became more and more lucrative for business and real estate projects in the years that followed, nothing was heard or seen of that old creek and catchment. Perhaps, as with all empty spaces, those areas were then paved or built over as part of the growing concrete jungle. That’s a worse case of horror vacui or the urge to fill every available space, a Filipino trait, they say.
It is the same story with how the street outside our very own campus has in recent years become flood-prone. I never recalled having to wade through knee-deep water during hours of rain in this place when I was a student in the early ‘90s, except during the supertyphoon Ruping.
The creek right beside our school had been covered with all sorts of garbage and the lagoon where it leads to, located just beside a high-class subdivision, has also closed in as it was built over with homes. With nowhere else to go, rainwater simply forces its way into living rooms, offices, cafeterias, or rise abruptly in the streets to drown expensive cars and give a lot of commuters a really bad day.
And there’s no way we can simply blame it on the rain. We have only our own human folly to blame. It’s simply the law of gravity. Water that falls to the ground will look for the lowest places to settle in or drain into.
We never planned our cities with this principle in mind. We never protected our rivers, watersheds and catchments. We paved our parks and turned them into parking areas. We never saved our potable water and wasted it by washing our cars or watering our plants with it. We never legislated measures to require homes and buildings to have water storage and recycling systems, or construct facilities to harvest rainwater.
Unless we start doing these things now, we expect that what happened last Friday night is bound to recur anytime soon in this La Niña season. And given the unpredictable and extreme weather patterns that come in the wake of climate change, we expect to have more and more of this in between the same frequency of droughts with the onset of the El Niño phenomenon. And we are just starting to experience that this year: living dangerously through extreme lack of water and then drowning from having too much of it.
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