Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals,communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.Marikina River: Blast from the past
Country Water ActionsPhilippines: Flood-Ready Marikina City
Web Writer Before Marikina became one of the Asia-Pacific’s mostlivable cities, it contended with floods that came wheneverit rained. Find out how Marikina is now expertly managingfloods.
READY AS CAN BE
In Marikina,Philippines, where abig urban river andseveral creeksrunning throughresidential areasswell during heavyrains, people couldnot help but beaccustomed tofloods. “Floods were a causefor celebration whenI was a kid,” JerryMacalino, 29, a father and a school bus driver, recalled. “During typhoons, we would await news on the suspensionof classes so we could play in the rain on the floodedstreets.” In the 1980s, Marikina was a small bustling municipalitystruggling against urbanization, a very polluted river, andclogged drainage system, with little flood managementknow-how. “Our street would remain flooded for days after the rains.We built rafts from scrap wood and used them to helppeople cross the waist-deep water, for a peso,” Jerry said.
FACT OF LIFE
Flood is a fact of lifein Marikina, an urbancommunity sitting inthe heart of a valleyon the eastern sideof Metro Manila.During the rainyseason, runoffs fromthe nearby SierraMadre Mountainssimmer a bit inMarikina’s creeks andstreets before being drained by the Marikina River into thePasig River, which empties into Manila Bay.In the 1970s, however, the Marikina River turned black andputrid, and oozed instead of flowed. It became the officialdumping ground of Marikina’s solid and liquid waste. Thecreeks suffered in similar ways. Informal settlements and factories lining the riverbanks thatunceremoniously discharged waste into the river were toblame. During heavy rains, filthy river overflows reach about2,000 households and they had to be evacuated every time.Meanwhile, the mountain runoffs mix with urban trash,taxing the drainage system for days. Mud and sludgecovered roads long after floodwaters had subsided. But thecoup de grâce was the 1992 flood that almost called forbuilding an ark. “I remember the big flood in 1992,” Alma Hizon, 67, then alaundrywoman and now a grandmother of two, recalled. “Wewere living in Barangay (town) Calumpang that time in asmall shanty just a few feet away from the riverbanks. Mydaughter and I had just enough time to pack our clothesbefore the river swallowed our house,” she narrated.The flood covered almost 28% of the entire municipality,affecting 10,000 households, including Alma’s. It becamethe wake-up call for the local government to address theflooding problem and prepare for disasters and emergencies.Fortunately, 1992 was also an election year, and Marikinaelected a new mayor—Bayani Fernando, now Chair of theMetro Manila Development Authority—who worked to makeMarikina livable.
Wasting no time,Mayor Fernandoinitiated the “Savethe Marikina River” project—a logicalmove since the riverserves as the valley’sbiggest drain, andunclogging it meanscontinuous flow of water and lessflooding. And as anengineer, Mayor Fernando knew he had to re-engineer thefailing drainage infrastructure.A massive drainage improvement project ensued, led by thelocal Engineering department, with Mayor Fernando at itshelm. The networks of canals, creeks, and other waterwayswere unclogged and connected to drain straight into theriver. Roads were paved to improve storm drains and riverdredging became more regular.