Based on the photos I saw on social media, last Saturday's great flood of Bacolod looked truly epic. The photos made me feel lucky that we weren't there when it happened because my family normally hears the 5:30 p.m. anticipated mass in the general area of the epicenter of the rising waters.
Recent experience has shown that every time torrential rains fall, flooding is the new normal. If it's any consolation, the floodwaters rise as quickly as they ebb so the impact isn't as prolonged but the trouble with floodwaters is that the length of contact generally doesn't matter. Once you, your home, business, or car has been inundated, it is usually traumatic, a hassle, and generally costly in terms of clean up.
So why have the floodwaters been rising so quickly these days?
The most obvious reason would be a general negligence in the maintenance and upkeep of storm drains. Nobody has been taking care of those drains so they have been slowly but surely been clogging up over time. Candy wrappers, cigarette butts and whatever we've been carelessly and irresponsibly been throwing away over the months, maybe even years, has been accumulating in the storm drains. Out of sight is out of mind and the rainless El Niño months have lulled everybody into a state of complacency as the city's storm drains clog up with accumulating litter and human refuse.
A determined effort to clean the storm drain system should prevent further floods every time it rains but this will take time and a lot more effort now that the rainy season and the onset of a La Niña increases the degree of difficulty and the dangers as far as maintenance activities are involved. Good luck to whoever has to unclog those drains.
Aside from clogged drains, another reason for the floods would be the unchecked and unregulated progress of Bacolod City. “Booming Bacolod” is nice to hear and lay claim to but if the rate of progress and the building boom is not done responsibly it can create many problems.
Anybody who has seen a construction site knows how there are no rules and regulations as far as the actual construction is involved. Even the guidelines for the building permits and environmental clearances haven't been adjusted to match whatever progress the city is experiencing.
How many creeks and streams have city officials allowed to be killed in the name of “progress”, just so they can lay claim to it? Do our cities/province have qualified environmental impact experts or do they actually depend on the recommendations of the “experts” who work for the developers themselves?
When it comes to actual construction, activities are generally unregulated. If we can see delivery trucks and cement mixers occupying significant parts of the road during rush hour when they should be doing those activities when they don't impact everyone else as badly, where do you think they dump their construction waste? I can bet they just shovel or hose all that sand, mud and gunk down the storm drains so their sites look spic and span. Everything may look fine and dandy on the outside, it may look like our cities are buzzing with progress, but when it rains, all the corner cutting becomes evident in the how quickly floodwaters rise.
It is easy to blame the flooding problem on someone else because it could very well be someone else's fault. After all, things wouldn't have gotten this bad if gross negligence and a twisted sense of priorities on slogans instead of actual performance hadn't allowed matters to degrade to Saturday's afternoon soggy nightmare. But that is all in the past and what matters to the people who got their pants wet and their car interiors soaked is that it doesn't happen again when the rains come once again.
Cleaning the storm drains, if it can be done quickly and properly during the rare times that the sun is shining, will most definitely alleviate the problem. But if and when is done, more has to be done to ensure that it doesn't get as clogged as it did. A war on littering should do it. Too many people still treat the road as their personal garbage dump. Tighter regulation and monitoring of construction activities should also keep the integrity of the storm drains so they function properly when the rains fall. If city officials feel too overwhelmed by this, they might want to pass it on to barangay officials since their barangays will be the ones most affected by floods anyway.
Floods shouldn't happen instantly as long as a city has a working storm drain system. It takes a lot of time and a lot of negligence for a problem to become as bad as it did last Saturday. The bad news is that solving the problem won't be instant as well. It will take time and effort.
For the meantime, it looks like we will have to deal with more floods everytime the heavens open up. I guess we'll have to get our galoshes ready and get lifting kits for our vehicles. Or be smart enough to avoid the flood prone areas every time it rains, at least until they've been proven flood-safe once more.*
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