The sea taking back reclaimed bay areas

POSTSCRIPT - Federico D. Pascual Jr. - The Philippine Star

We have long ignored the flashing red light warning us that the sea will eventually take back the large areas taken from Manila Bay as the burgeoning city looked farther west for more residential and commercial space to develop.

Manila Bay, immortalized in music and poetry, has shrunk and its famous sunset pushed farther away on the horizon despite attempts by environmentalists and concerned groups to stop its aggressive reclamation.

Comes now Greenpeace East Asia reporting that the capital city, particularly its low-lying section closest to the bay, may be taken back by the sea in 10 years as the water level continues to rise with climate change and the flooding of coastal areas.

The commercial structures built on the reclaimed sections, and the businesses established in them, have until 2030 or thereabouts to recoup their investments and run away with reasonable returns, if the group’s disturbing prognosis materializes.

It looks like the creeping in of the sea to take back what has been grabbed from it may endanger 1.54 million of the city’s 1.78 million population, and erode its gross domestic product by $39 billion.

Greenpeace’s report covering seven cities similarly situated across Asia Pacific called for stronger climate action from government decision-makers in the region to avert, or maybe retard, the onset of worst climate scenarios.

Citing data, Greenpeace country director Lea Guerrero said: “Experts have long known the extreme vulnerability of coastal cities such as Manila to climate impacts due to flooding events compounded by sea-level rise.

“We may experience these impacts sooner than we think. Within this decade, coastal cities in Asia and the Philippines – not just Manila – are at high risk from rising sea levels and intensifying storms, impacting our homes, safety and livelihoods.”

Greenpeace estimated that by 2030, some 15 million people in the seven Asian cities surveyed will be living in flood-prone areas. It said Manila is especially vulnerable, being one of the world’s most congested cities and one of the riskiest in terms of natural disasters.

Calling on the government to adopt a coherent strategy from local to national levels to address the climate crisis, the group said the strategy should make climate action key in development policies, plans and projects.

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On bay reclamation, meanwhile, Dr. Kelvin S. Rodolfo, professor emeritus of Earth & Environmental Sciences of the University of Illinois at Chicago, said in an email:

“As plans progress rapidly toward reclamations of Manila Bay’s nearshore, events continue to inform us just how dangerous doing so would be. Nature’s most recent warning was the collapse on June 24 of part of the 12-story seaside Champlain Towers South condominium complex near Miami, Florida.

“The building was built on reclaimed wetland. Clearly, its footing was not of even strength because only part of the structure gave way.

“Investigations will determine how much blame, if any, can be assigned to the reclaimed site. But the failure of the structure can definitely be blamed in large part to ‘concrete cancer.’ All concrete is porous to some extent, and over the 40-year lifespan of the Tower, the nearshore salty air slowly soaked into the concrete and rusted the steel rebar within into fatal weakness.

“Manila Bay shares the same oceanside environment. Furthermore, exceptionally porous Pinatubo lahar sand, which makes even more cancer-prone concrete, is being used for much Metro Manila construction.”

Duterte makes light of Taal tantrums

President Duterte should have known better than to crack jokes in the midst of a developing disaster, as the restive Taal Volcano in Batangas was ejecting a dark plume to the sky and shaking the ground.

Duterte was in Antipolo on Thursday, some 85 kilometers away, inaugurating a new station of the P4.5-billion LRT-2 East Extension Project, when the media asked him about Taal’s tantrums, recalling last year’s eruption that caused widespread death and destruction.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology had raised to Level 3 the alert on Volcano Island and recommended its evacuation, together with high-risk barangays of Agoncillo and Laurel towns in Batangas.

Answering media questions, Duterte did not take seriously Taal’s “phreatomagmatic eruption” – which involves magma and water interacting explosively – saying without explaining that the developing situation was “not really a grave concern.”

Asked what the government planned to do, he said, “Dumaan man kami kanina. Siguro lagyan ko lang ng cap, ’yung butas. Itong Taal na ’yan (We passed by earlier. Maybe I will just put a cap on the hole. That Taal).”

He sounded like he was joking, but nobody was laughing. Many people who watched the televised presscon remembered him during another eruption saying something as crude as his eating the volcanic ash and peeing on the volcano.

In November 2020, during a typhoon briefing, Duterte also made uncalled-for remarks that some officials were “undersexed” and had “too many women.” On the COVID-19 pandemic, he vowed that he would “sasampalin” (slap) the virus if he could get hold of it.

It was not clear if Duterte resorts to joking just for comic relief. But it could not be to hide apparent ignorance of the gravity of the situation. His office and that of the Science and Technology secretary get the first copies of updated reports of Phivolcs.

We think the President should not have been let loose into a calamity situation without being prepared to answer likely questions on the developing crisis.

His lack of preparation was also obvious on Friday the 13th in November 2020 when killer typhoon Ulysses (Vamco) submerged large swathes of Cagayan Valley, sending soaked residents clambering on their rooftops waiting for rescue.

In the absence of the President, Vice President Leni Robredo and her teams rushed to the scene and coordinated rescue and relief operations. Soon Duterte showed up, but not before denouncing her for “competing” with him.

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NB: All Postscripts are also archived at ManilaMail.com. Author is on Twitter as @FDPascual. Email: [email protected]

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