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Country Water Actions

Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals, communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.

Philippines: Flood-Ready Marikina City

October 2008

By Cezar Tigno Web Writer Before Marikina became one of the Asia-Pacifics most livable cities, it contended with floods that came whenever it rained. Find out how Marikina is now expertly managing floods. READY AS CAN BE In Marikina, Philippines, where a big urban river and several creeks running through residential areas swell during heavy rains, people could not help but be accustomed to floods. Informal settlements and factories lining the riverbanks that unceremoniously discharged waste into the river were to blame. During heavy rains, filthy river overflows reach about 2,000 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 sludge covered roads long after floodwaters had subsided. But the coup de grce was the 1992 flood that almost called for building an ark. I remember the big flood in 1992, Alma Hizon, 67, then a laundrywoman and now a grandmother of two, recalled. We were living in Barangay (town) Calumpang that time in a small shanty just a few feet away from the riverbanks. My daughter and I had just enough time to pack our clothes before the river swallowed our house, she narrated. The flood covered almost 28% of the entire municipality, affecting 10,000 households, including Almas. It became the wake-up call for the local government to address the flooding problem and prepare for disasters and emergencies. Fortunately, 1992 was also an election year, and Marikina elected a new mayorBayani Fernando, now Chair of the Metro Manila Development Authoritywho worked to make Marikina livable. RIVER REHAB Wasting no time, Mayor Fernando initiated the Save the Marikina River projecta logical move since the river serves as the valleys biggest drain, and unclogging it means continuous flow of water and less flooding. And as an engineer, Mayor Fernando knew he had to re-engineer the failing drainage infrastructure. A massive drainage improvement project ensued, led by the local Engineering department, with Mayor Fernando at its helm. The networks of canals, creeks, and other waterways were unclogged and connected to drain straight into the river. Roads were paved to improve storm drains and river dredging became more regular.

Marikina River: Blast from the past SOURCE: Floods were a cause for celebration when I was a kid, Jerry Macalino, 29, a father and a school bus driver, recalled. During typhoons, we would await news on the suspension of classes so we could play in the rain on the flooded streets. In the 1980s, Marikina was a small bustling municipality struggling against urbanization, a very polluted river, and clogged drainage system, with little flood management know-how. Our street would remain flooded for days after the rains. We built rafts from scrap wood and used them to help people cross the waist-deep water, for a peso, Jerry said. FACT OF LIFE Flood is a fact of life in Marikina, an urban community sitting in the heart of a valley on the eastern side of Metro Manila. During the rainy season, runoffs from the nearby Sierra Madre Mountains simmer a bit in Marikinas creeks and streets before being drained by the Marikina River into the Pasig River, which empties into Manila Bay. In the 1970s, however, the Marikina River turned black and putrid, and oozed instead of flowed. It became the official dumping ground of Marikinas solid and liquid waste. The creeks suffered in similar ways.

In 1994, a new law declared no-build zones along both sides of the river. All factories on the riverbanks were removed, or they were forced to set up their own waste and wastewater management facilities. Affected households, totaling 10,000, were relocated; among them were Alma and her daughter, who now live in one of the resettlement projects in Barangay Malanday, which is still by the river, but on higher and safer grounds. Were more contented here and its very rare that we need to evacuate, Alma said. We have electricity and water. Garbage is collected every week. And we pay the local government just a small amount monthly for the mortgage of our new house, she added. With the major sources of pollution out of the way, river clean up was a breeze. The riverbanks were transformed into sports and recreational areas, with jogging and biking lanes, a skating rink, and pockets of childrens playgrounds. More importantly, incorporated in these improvements were simple instruments that measure the rivers water level. In 1996, Marikina became a city. In 2001, Bayani Fernandos wife, Maria Lourdes Fernando succeeded him as city mayor and continued the vision of making Marikina a model, flood-ready, and livable city in Asia. TEAM UP AGAINST FLOODS Under Mayor Maria Lourdes Fernando, the Marikina City Disaster Coordinating Council (MCDCC), which was revived during her husbands term, was given a more proactive mandate. Chaired by the mayor herself, the MCDCC now oversees pre- and post-disaster situations and needs of Marikinas citizens and leads the citys operations during typhoons, floods, and other disasters. It has a tried and tested Disaster Preparedness Program that coordinates efforts of 10 city government offices: Department of Education to oversee evacuation centers and evacuation proceedings Rescue 161, a paramedics rescue team, to centralize communications and information monitoring and dissemination, such as on river water level, available and ready evacuation centers, number of evacuees, etc. City Health Office to provide medical assistance Social Welfare and Development Office to facilitate food and relief goods distribution City Transportation Management and Development Office to provide evacuation transport General Services Office to provide logistic requirements Bureau of Fire to aid in rescue operations of affected people and households Office of Public Safety and Security to maintain security and public order

Public Information Office to coordinate with national media for accurate information dissemination Waste Management Office to conduct maintenance services Sirens have also been installed near the river to sound the alarm for increased water level. A 30-second alarm means water has reached the critical level of 15 meters, and puts the MCDCC on alert status. A 2-minute alarm means that the water level continues to rise and evacuation of households in low-lying areas should begin. At this point, MCDCC member departments begin simultaneous work, coordinated by the Rescue 161 team. Incidentally, 161 is also the citys emergency phone line, similar in function to 911 in the US. Recently, the city has also published and distributed a Disaster Management Handbook to citizens as part of a disaster preparedness campaign. The handbook aims to educate residents about what to do before, during, and after calamities, such as fires, earthquakes, and floods. It also features the MCDCC Disaster Preparedness Plan. The city also has its own narrowcast radio station, DZBF-1674 MHz, which broadcasts emergency alerts and updates. SMALL TOWN EFFORTS While the MCDCC takes charge of citywide disaster emergencies, each of Marikinas 16 towns has its own Barangay Disaster Coordinating Council that not only addresses disaster situations at the town level, but also does flood preparedness work. This includes the annual dredging of the towns canals and drainage system prior to the rainy season. Each barangay also allots a small calamity fund from its annual budget for purchasing relief goods. Nia Cruz-Sta. Ana, town secretary of Barangay Sta. Elena, disclosed her own Barangays initiatives. Our Barangay Disaster Coordinating Council organized a Barangay Emergency Response Team, she proudly said. It is a volunteer group trained in rescue operations and first aid. The members were trained by the Red Cross, and one of their primary tasks is to assist during evacuation proceedings. The problem is, the response team does not have any hands-on experience yetthere has not been any major flood in their Barangay and in Marikina City in years. RELATED LINKS Philippines Water Action: Eradicating the Marikina Rivers Fish Menace Marikina City website*

_______________________________ *This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in October 2008: The Country Water Action series was developed to showcase reforms and good practices in the water sector undertaken by ADBs member countries. It offers a mix of experience and insights from projects funded by ADB and those undertaken directly by civil society, local governments, the private sector, media, and the academe. The Country Water Actions are regularly featured in ADBs Water for All News, which covers water sector developments in the Asia and Pacific region.