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Is Metro Manila a dying city?

Numerous studies by groups such as the American Psychological Association have noted the link between chronic stress and some of the leading causes of death, among them heart disease, lung ailments, cancer and even suicide.

If this is the case, then Metro Manila residents are in danger of dying because the metropolis has just been named in a recent study as the 10th most stressful city in the world.

Analyzing 500 cities all over the world based on several factors that include pollution, traffic levels, public transport, percentage of green spaces, people’s financial status, physical and mental health of residents and even the number of hours of sunlight per year, the UK-based dry cleaning and laundry service company Zipjet came to the conclusion that Metro Manila is a very stressful city to live in, getting a stress level rating of 8.92  with 10 being the most stressful. Baghdad emerged as the number one most stressful city, followed by Kabul, Lagos, Dakar, Cairo, Tehran, Dhaka, Karachi, New Delhi and the Philippines making up the top 10 most stressful cities.

Majority of commuters we talked with agree with the survey, sharing stories of everyday stress due to traffic going to work and then back home that they say wastes an average of four to five hours every day. Studies say an average of P3 billion is lost every day due to the energy and man-hours wasted because of traffic.

We also hear stories about commuters getting stranded because of the rains, with streets getting flooded and shuttle drivers refusing to ply their route because of the resulting mammoth gridlock. MRT riders, in particular, say that taking the train feels like they have one foot in the grave because of accidents like a train overshooting the tracks and hitting a lamppost in one of the stations, abruptly skidding to a halt which results in injuries to passengers, or a seat suddenly catching fire, which is what happened recently, causing passengers to be offloaded and disrupting train operations.

The fact is, Metro Manila is close to becoming an unlivable city judging from a recent study conducted by the IESE Business School of the University of Navarra in Spain which ranked the metropolis almost at the bottom of the ladder – placing 148th among 180 cities in terms of livability. Singapore, on the other hand, was ranked 22nd, while Bangkok was 86th. Kuala Lumpur placed 92nd, and Ho Chi Minh even beat us because it was ranked 146th. There were several categories considered for the study, and one of them was transportation with Metro Manila getting its worst rating at 174th place. 

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Aside from traffic, one of the problems that residents face is garbage and its proper disposal. September happens to be the National Cleanup Month, and cleanup activities by conducted by several groups underscore the magnitude of the problem of waste, especially plastic wastes that are usually dumped in our waters. During the Manila Bay cleanup operation conducted by the city of Manila’s Department of Public Safety, truckloads of garbage were collected from Manila Bay. According to authorities, about 25 truckloads are collected every time they conduct cleanup operations during weekends. Apparently, the monsoon season drives garbage from Cavite, Laguna and Bataan to Manila Bay.

According to the Metro Manila Development Authority, the metropolis produces an average of 10,000 tons of garbage every day – and the agency is looking at technologies that can turn garbage into energy, freeing up space in landfills in the process. Trash actually aggravates flooding in many parts of Metro Manila, especially in areas where esteros are located. As noted by former MMDA chairman Francis Tolentino, at least four incinerators are needed to clear garbage in Metro Manila, with each incinerator estimated to cost P7 billion each.  

A few months ago, Metro Pacific Investments Corp. proposed a project to get rid of the garbage in Quezon City – one of the most densely populated cities in Metro Manila – by converting solid waste into renewable energy. According to MPIC, the waste-to-energy project has the potential to convert 3,000 metric tons of solid waste into 42 megawatts of renewable energy – enough to supply the energy needs of as much as 90,000 homes. This is something that should be thoroughly studied because if it turns out to be viable, perhaps the project can be replicated in other cities in Metro Manila especially since a study by the Asian Development Bank as early as 2003 disclosed that five cities – namely Makati, Muntinlupa, Pasig, Quezon City and Valenzuela – collectively generate more than 861,000 tons of waste every year.

For a metropolis that is supposed to house only five million people, Metro Manila has become over populated, with an estimated population of 12.8 million according to the 2015 population census, although experts say the daytime population could reach 15 million – making Metro Manila one of the most densely populated cities.

Interestingly, an article published by – a leading online source of news and information on property and urban development in Australia and many parts of the world – talked about a proposal by two architecture graduates from the US to solve pollution through futuristic factories in the city. Using Metro Manila as an example, the proposal talks about a self-sustaining vertical factory that would stimulate green growth by turning organic waste into fertilizer, water, heat and electricity. Moving these “clean” factories back to urban areas like Metro Manila would enhance better quality of life because workers can just walk to work instead of commuting or driving, the proposal claimed.

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