Metro Manila a candidate for urban ‘catastrophic failure’ according to policy expert

The virtue of ‘resilience’ has become a dirty word now in the Philippines as third-time unlucky Manila is again hit by another one of those “one-in-one-hundred” calamities that were once the key statistical notion underpinning urban planners’ archaic flood “control” master plans. Although response to the disaster has “improved”, the feel-good rhetoric around Filipinos’ cockroach-like ability to survive calamities is wearing thin. Increasingly unpredictable model-breaking weather disturbances and the reality of the urban decay case study Metro Manila has become has re-defined what “normal” means to most of Manila’s residents.

The article Philippines Flooding Highlights Dangers of Fast Urbanization cites an observation made by Edward Blakely, honorary professor of urban policy at the University of Sydney…

“These floods are the result of overbuilding and extending the city into former farm and marsh areas,” Blakely told Trend Lines. “There is an issue here of responsible building,” he added, explaining that developers “were building on very fragile marshlands, on creeks and so on, just covering them up with a bit of cement and hoping for the best.”


He said some cities, like Manila, might have to abandon entire neighborhoods so that the larger city can avoid the “boom, sprawl and bust” cycle that has doomed cities in the past.

Blakely said that at some point, a city can reach a point of “catastrophic failure,” where the combination of a natural disaster and a lack of planning creates a disaster so devastating that some significant portion of the city cannot be rebuilt. He called Manila “a likely suspect” for that kind of event.

The concept of catastrophic failure enjoys solid mathematical governance in most engineering fields and finds a place in any kind of design endeavour alongside that other mathetmatically-governed design property: resilience. The relationship between catastrophic failure and resilience is quite simple and can be summarised in a single sentence:

Any system subject to stress flexes within a resilient range before it transitions into a catastrophic failure event.

The favourite subject of metaphors used by poets to describe “resilient” systems is the bamboo stalk. A bamboo stalk is “resilient” because it can bend (flex) when subject to stress. Like most building materials, however, it eventually cracks (the catastrophic failure event) when the load it bears goes past its resilient range.

An example closer to the catastrophic scale Metro Manila might be facing in the future, is the big sinkhole that suddenly appeared in the middle of Guatemala City in June 2010. Apparently, years of leaking sewage pipes underneath that city had progressively carved out an underground cavity that eventually led to the catastophic failure that finally manifested itself on the surface.

[Photo courtesy]

How much more “resilience” can Metro Manila residents exhibit? When flood waters come knocking at the doorsteps of the very folk who like waxing poetic about Filipinos’ legendary “resilience”, perhaps we can expect a bit of a change in the tune traditionally sung by our venerable “thought leaders” soon.


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39 Comments on "Metro Manila a candidate for urban ‘catastrophic failure’ according to policy expert"

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dont worry, the president is working on a permanent solution to floods in manila. that kind of project is not done in a day so we must wait.


The idea of a 6 Year Presidency is to prevent corruption among politicians. Ideally, any good projects made by past Prime Ministers/Presidents are meant to be carried forth and completed by the next candidate during their term. However, due to pointless jealousy, proud executive officers would often cancel those projects as demonic activities mainly to flaunt their own aptitude and gain popularity.


Judging from the events that followed President Aquino these past three years, I would conclude that God have abandoned him. As the Bible do say,

“It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, he has turned away and will not listen anymore.” – Isiah 59:2

I do not pity the President Aquino and his blind followers with whom he leads to darkness.

Der Fuhrer
The very apparent lack of planning,foresight, flood control maintenance and infrastructure building is public knowledge. This inaction has been going on for many years.There should have been a comprehensive long-term approach. But as usual nothing happened yet. What really raised my blood pressure is the epal display made by our present administration politicians in distributing relief goods as a way to be voted into public office come 2013. This political tactic has always been used to attract attention to the trapos in government. All this while we, the people suffer flooding every time hard rain pours. The country needs leaders… Read more »

When flood waters come knocking at the doorsteps of the very folk who like waxing poetic about Filipinos’ legendary “resilience”, perhaps we can expect a bit of a change in the tune traditionally sung by our venerable “thought leaders” soon.

Or we can expect even more funny-as-fuck pictures readily demonstrating the populace’s ability to just not give one.

Lord Chimera

you guys care to wager that Noynoy is using Simcity as a blueprint for urban planning?

Ah so what did Cory do in her 6 year term when she is said to have turned back the democracy in this land aside from taking Marcos’ projects on hold? Neglecting the development of the entire nation and pass it over to the succeeding presidents, and have them blamed for supposed gross negligence when in fact it’s possible that they only retrieved these problems from their predecessors. And now that Cory’s son is the sitting President sharing the same old problems of the country that his mom failed to resolve, he seems to do the same thing, vilify the… Read more »
Dismayed Pinoy
For all the love I have for this country, it is mired by all these political stunts of showboating. I really, absolutely abhor (in fact there are no adjectives in my vocabulary that can properly satiate my extreme dislike for the politics here, it like they even try to flaunt all their ill-gotten wealth its insane!) the politics in this country enough to be utterly disgusted by it and even sadder is that the masses just stand ignorant to all these anomalies and reelect the same people who screw them over. IT LIKE THEY HAVE A MEMORY SPAN OF 3… Read more »

Perhaps the floods as well as the sinkhole in Guatemala have this message to us: Not every where on the Earth is meant for you to inhabit. If you need space, it means you just need to reduce your population.


I wish a sinkhole would appear under Congress and in Malacanang and swallow up those politicians. “See the problem now?”

and as for @fishball’s comment up there. Well it does make sense. The best reply I’ve seen from him. but @Gogs just made it even better. hahahaha

Hyden Toro

I think, we enjoy being flooded every year. We receive free relief goods, from various politicians. Who are in campaign mode; inspite of they fact that people are drowning. Houses are being carried away by the flood. Politicians want to distribute relief goods, to hook some idiots, who will vote for them…
We are not normal people…


Well if that hole will get a chance to migrate here in the Philippines then I say, we need you in Manila. lol Come here cause you would be an effective flood water reservoir, you are definitely big enough to catch every raindrop until it turn into flood. See you in EDSA lol.


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