Rizal Councilor Arnel Alvarez outlines how his barangay is making headway in addressing its significant disaster risk.
By Andy McElroy
MAKATI, 25 March 2014
– The Philippines’ city of Makati is striving for a comprehensive disaster risk management plan that strengthens the resilience of both multi-billion dollar businesses and migrant families struggling on a few dollars a day.
The city, a big driver of the Philippines economy, sees its daytime population balloon almost tenfold, to 4.2 million, as people flock to work across the whole spectrum of formal and informal businesses that exist side by side in many megacities of the world’s emerging economies.
“We are shifting towards a more proactive approach based on prevention and mitigation – rather than simply response – which is linked with the national and international frameworks for disaster risk reduction,” said Ms Liza Velle Ramos, the Acting Head of Research and Planning of Makati’s Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office.
The challenge, however, is significant. Of the municipality’s 33 barangays, Rizal is perhaps the most vulnerable and exposed to disaster risk. The 76-hectare district on the southeast border of Makati is a warren of narrow alleyways. It teems with a mix of informal and formal small-scale businesses, which include retail, catering, repair shops and junkyards, among other enterprises.
Council member Arnel Alvarez points to various hazard maps pinned to the entrance of the barangay office as he outlines the district’s risk profile: “We sit right on top of the Western Valley fault line so our biggest fear is a 7.2 (magnitude) earthquake. It would be a catastrophe. On a more regular basis, much of the barangay is flood- and fire-prone.”
But there are clear signs of progress in managing disaster risk and not just disasters. A creek, crucial to Rizal’s drainage, has been dredged, cleaned and fenced off with a 3-metre clearance on either side.
Evacuation routes are clearly identified throughout the barangay and the city authorities plan to widen the main thoroughfares by two metres. Houses are tagged with colour-coded signs that indicate whether the residents require any special assistance during evacuation.
Above the creek, an emergency evacuation meeting point, which doubles as a basketball court in during normal days, has been constructed. “It was built a year ago and we’ve already used it twice,” Councilor Alvarez said. “In emergencies, it acts as a gathering point for 1,000 people. It can also be converted into an emergency shelter for those who are most in need.”
About 3km west, in stark contrast to Rizal, is the barangay of San Lorenzo. Here, the barangay office is situated within a gated community of grass-verged roads and significant houses. In the near distance loom luxury shopping malls, five-star hotels and high-end businesses that also form part of the barangay.
Despite the difference in context, Barangay Chairman Ernesto Moya displays a similar commitment to his council colleague in Rizal in his effort to strengthen San Lorenzo’s resilience.
“To improve our management capacity, we need to find our weaknesses – our ‘unsafe spots’ – and work to strengthen these,” Chairman Moya said. “One of the biggest challenges we face is access in the event of a disaster. As first responders, we would quickly need support but traffic and road blockages could be a big problem.”
At New City Hall, in the centre of Makati, Mr Anthony Xenon Walde, Head of Planning Division of the Urban Development Department, outlined what is the Philippines’ first comprehensive land use plan and zoning ordinance that mainstreams disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.
“We aim to avoid or eliminate risk and then at the next level to reduce it or mitigate it,” said Mr Walde. He also emphasized how the Pasig River has a central role in development planning: “We want to give it new life.”
Relocation of informal settlements is perhaps the most sensitive issue within the city’s disaster risk management strategy. The Tripa de Gellina creek is crucial to the protection of Makati, draining away 80 percent of floodwaters.
The city aims to actively maintain the creek and create a 3-metre boundary alongside it. However, the opposite bank is under another jurisdiction and on the Makati side, an estimated 1,389 informal structures remain.
The municipality commits to following due process and engaging appropriate authorities when relocation is at hand but acknowledges tensions often run high.