Floodwaters have been a constant part of life in Manila for as long as I can remember. Rain boots were a closet staple for my family and I growing up, and we used to cut up plastic bottles and turn them into boats to float down the flooded street.
In college, my car stalled a number of times in the flood, so my classmates and I would instead spend the night in UST every time España flooded. My first office was along Araneta Avenue, where floodwaters would almost reach the second floor and my team would be stranded for a couple of days at times.
Over the years, much has been said about the threats of climate change and the need to protect our planet and plant more trees. There is an obvious need for more structural infrastructure, like dams and spillways to address our overflowing rivers. Permeable surfaces must be implemented and a stronger disaster response program is necessary.
I’d like to share a few ideas that can be implemented immediately to help us prepare for the next few years, as typhoons of increasing risk and severity come our way. While long term structural programs are put in place, we must promote actionable, yet non-structural measures that can provide immediate relief.
We need to develop community-based flood mitigation programs that empower local communities to act upon the needs of their own. These programs can better identify and address local concerns and create solutions that may escape centrally planned programs. This bottom-up approach can be facilitated with education and training programs centered around our barangays.
The first step is to identify and assess the communities that are most at risk. Floods can endanger lives, damage property or hinder mobility. Information can be better received and understood when it is delivered locally by well-informed and trained community leaders. Proper safety protocols and escape routes can be better communicated with constant dissemination of relevant literature.
We should provide local communities with basic boating equipment and first aid training at very little cost. The availability of equipment locally and within reach of the community can reduce the reliance on communication infrastructure that regularly gets cut during these typhoons. This also empowers the community and serves as visible reminders of the need for earlier evacuation to locally available disaster shelters.
Training for at-risk communities should include leadership and organizational training, waste management, search and rescue, and public health training. The biggest threats of floodwaters are diseases that can come after the flooding. Organizational support should not be overlooked nor delivered only when disaster strikes, but rather throughout the whole year to better strengthen local resilience.