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.”


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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.

39 Replies to “Metro Manila a candidate for urban ‘catastrophic failure’ according to policy expert”

  1. 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.

    1. And it cannot be done within a 6 year term. This things take time, careful planning and attention to details. What makes Pnoy think he can do it now?

      Point is, fishball, you president failed, because he cancelled a long term project for the mere reason that GMA was the brainchild. Same goes for her mother, Cory, who moved to mothball the BNPP because it was started by FM.

    2. You know, birdbrain, your President isn’t technically working on a permanent solution, he ordered others to. He was handed on a silver platter feasible solutions by his predecessor but what did he do? He cancelled them arbitrarily without having any alternative ready and served up.

    3. Unfortunately, there are no permanent solutions in this world.

      Long term, possibly, but that can’t be done in 4 years. Good luck to him but while he’s “working”, our people are suffering.

  2. 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.

    1. Not in this case.GMA had a plan and it would have made her family and friends RICHER.Aquino is overwhelmed and under-funded,not a good place to be.2 yrs. is not enuff time to fix a problem festering for decades.
      the developers do not care,nor do the city planners,if skyscrapers fall down and crush everyone below…as long as they get paid.Manila needs a foreign expert to step in,come up with a real plan,and MALACANANG best listen,implement and get to work.

      1. How can the government be under-funded IF we are now creditors to IMF? When they are willing to shell out billions of pesos to CCT and RH Bill? When pork-barrel is being rushed so that it can be used as so-called calamity fund by congress-which I think they should have used their previous funds for?
        It is really confusing why many think that the Arroyo government was heartless when it promoted family time through extended weekend holidays, personally appealed to the service and oil industry to put a hold on price hikes during time of calamities.
        Also, increased projects in the nearby provinces during her time increased employment and made it possible to transport agricultural goods to the metro.
        Economically speaking, inflation rate has soared 2x the time it did in the past 3yrs compared to the previous admin causing an increase in the cost of living in this country.
        Maybe, just maybe if we do start feeling progress I can believe GMA was a bad leader. Otherwise, I remain to state that Aquino is worthless.

        1. So your point is that Aquino is worthless?OK,but this problem is decades old,nothing new with these floods and what did GMA do in nine yrs. in office to combat the problem?She did nothing.BUT when it was her time to leave office,she wanted to set up her friends to benefit from whatever it was she had planned,just like all the other do nothing politicians,Aquino what is the point?one is/was better than the other?THEY BOTH DID NOTHING.

        2. Let me return the question to you? So are you saying AQUINO is actually WORTH something?

          And how can you say GMA did nothing? She was smart enough to continue projects of infrastructures outside Manila. Yes, Manila was left behind during her term but she at least prioritized the rural areas. Was there no corruption? I would not say there weren’t any. But at least something was done to elevate the lives of those in the rural areas.

          Mindanao was prioritized unlike the previous governments, even by the present.

          As a corporate slave working for more than 7years, I can personally say that cost of living was better during GMA’s time compared to now.

          And BTW, you were talking about the present government being under-funded. How come the “pork-barrel” continue to increase???

          “In 2011, its first year in office, the budget for pork was increased to P22.3 billion from P6.9 billion in 2010 or a whopping 223% increase! Then this year 2012, the budget for pork is P24.89 billion or another increase of more than 10%. And next year 2013, an election year, the budget will be P30 billion!”

          The Aquino government overwhelmed and underfunded, eh???

          No one said that the problems can be solved in 2years. But then again the current admin failed to provide ALTERNATIVES!

          Decades old or not, if a solution is provided, corrupted or not should, should be reviewed and a contingency plans should be in place in case it does not work into ones liking. Were there any for 2years after the cancellation of the projects? There WEREN’T ANY!!!

    2. Actually, as Yuko Kasuya says in the book Presidential Bandwagon, the real reason the single six year term was made was to prevent the president’s using government funds for a reelection campaign. Why this measure was used instead of a law that simply bans the president from using such funds really reflects poor thinking and reactionism behind our laws.

      1. But aren’t election funded through donations and fund raisers or your own money? You are not supposed to use government funds to begin with right?

  3. 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.

      1. A lot of pro-Aquino like to use the name of God when in vain…i think he just wanted to say there is also a biblical counterpart for mediocrity.

  4. 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 who will act decisively for the benefit of the sovereign people.

    1. You know what they say let no opportunity pass away without using it. You have to admit their epal display and the timing is very ingenious…..problem is his “ingenuity” is not applied to caring for the state’s welfare.

    2. thank you for that one fuhrer,well said.the current crop of politico’s are incompetent,incapable buffoons who will fiddle when Manila sinks/burns.
      My suggestion? GET OUT OF TOWN,it is too late, the ship has gone past the tipping point of its keel and has nowhere to go but down.
      SERIOUSLY,the problem is to big to fix any time soon enough to prevent the coming disasters.3 yrs. came and went and nothing was done after ’09,and the problem has just gotten much,much worse….tic-toc,tic-toc.

  5. 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.

      1. @Gogs

        If he was playing resident evil 5, he would always get his head chopped off by the chainsaw majini or just die repeatedly in chapter 1-1.

  6. 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 previous regime and take cedit of everything that is good while shutting the eyes of media.

  7. 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 SECONDS!!! UNBELIEVABLE!

  8. 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.

  9. 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

  10. 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…

  11. 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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