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Bacolod City, Philippines Tuesday, August 7, 2018
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Come To Think Of It
with Carlos Antonio L. Leonardia



There is only one way to find out if a flood control and prevention project works. If the rains come and it still floods, then it obviously failed to do its job.

Let’s face it. We live in a time of climate change which means the double whammy of rising oceans levels and now intense rains will make most cities, especially the coastal ones, more susceptible to flooding. For those of us who live in an archipelago, that’s most of our towns and cities and the most vulnerable ones are those below sea level or those that are overloaded with people, especially when they are indiscriminate litterbugs who are, ironically, among the first to complain about flooding when it comes.

Climate change, more extreme weather, coastal cities, and irresponsible citizens all mean that whatever flood prevention and protection measures have to be designed with the future in mind, not according to age-old design standards. We don’t know how the DPWH designs their flood control projects but, based on recent experience, all we can do is hope that the DPWH engineers did their homework and floods will be prevented and/or controlled once the different phases of the “upgrades” are completed.

Take for example the flood control project along Lacson Street that is not only the most visible because of its effect on everyday traffic, it is also the one that raises the most questions. Most people are asking why the upgraded culverts are in the middle of the road where it is higher and not the sides where water would naturally flow due to the design of roads that are sloped towards the gutter. There must be a reason for this design decision but because of the inconvenience the road works have heaped upon the public, it better work properly or people won’t like bearing with the inconvenience if it turns out the effects on flooding were marginal.

Aside from the weird location of the culverts, one question that would naturally be asked is the size of the culverts. We all know that bigger is always better when it comes to engineering but in this case, the limiting factor would’ve been the width of the road. The designers of the DPWH would probably close down two lanes and lay mega-culverts if they could but such an ambitious project would probably cause too much traffic and shut the city down so they based their design on the acceptable impact on the city.

Finally, they have to make sure that those culverts go somewhere that can handle the load. I’m sure that our engineers must’ve taken this into consideration, but in a country where we’ve seen bridges that lead to nowhere being built, most of us wouldn’t be surprised if we had drainage lines that led to nowhere too. After all, nobody but the engineers can see where our storm drains go. The fish in the animated film “Finding Nemo” may know that all drains lead to the ocean but that might not be true in the Philippines.

One project that raises doubts on the effectiveness of drainage improvements would be the intersection of Magsaysay Street and Araneta, where an upgrade was undertaken and supposedly completed a couple of years ago but the floodwaters at that intersection are still quick to rise when torrential rains fall. That area is sandwiched by two rivers and the storm drains have recently been upgraded. If floodwaters still rise easily then something is probably wrong with the project. This is one of the easiest food prevention and control projects to troubleshoot but unless there are complications that are invisible to the casual observer, it is easy to wonder why engineers still couldn’t solve it.

Aside from upgrading storm drains, the coastal and low-lying nature of our cities means even the best and biggest storm drains will still have to contend with the high tide. In a world where high tides are rising, we are putting our cities at the mercy of nature every time strong rains and high tides coincide. If our engineers cannot find solutions for this, flooding will always be a problem.

On top of all these engineering and execution problems are the litterbugs who seem totally oblivious to their role in the flooding problem. We see their trash on our streets and we often see them in action almost every day. They think that their one piece of trash doesn’t matter but if you come to think of it, if only 10 percent of Bacolodnons think this way, and with a population of 600,000, that’s already 60,000 pieces of trash. If we don’t pitch in and government does not step in, our storm drains will be rendered useless by trash no matter how big or upgraded they may be.

It’s easy to blame government for not working hard enough, not being proactive, or not thinking big enough every time calamities like floods occur because they are ultimately responsible for making our communities as safe as possible. We expect them to anticipate problems, build solutions, and keep those solutions working efficiently for as long as possible, preferably with the least effort from our end.

If we are going to keep our communities flood-free, especially during these changing times where if feels like our islands our sinking and the rains are getting stronger, we will need to do more than just complain.*  

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