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Monday, March 4, 2024

Metro Manila faces big challenge with smog, flood and huge traffic

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Metro Manila is far from making itself a resilient and sustainable habitat as defined by the United Nations. Heavy floods, smog or air pollution, and traffic jams are a fact of life in the metropolis. But policymakers must take the challenge of reversing these trends if they want a modern metropolis fit for human living.

Last week’s flash floods and smog in the capital region do not speak well for a bustling city that is trying to modernize and keep pace with other Asian cities. The smog over Metro Manila last week was alarming while floods that stalled traffic in many thoroughfares last Saturday exposed poverty and the uneven development in the region.

A short northbound stretch of EDSA near Gate 3 of Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City was submerged in up to 19 inches of floodwater before noon last Saturday. The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) reported that private vehicles and buses using the EDSA Bus Carousel at the innermost lane of EDSA were stuck and did not attempt to pass through the deep floodwaters. The flood nearly submerged the concrete barrier of the Bus Carousel, resulting in a long column of stranded vehicles that reached as far as Guadalupe in Makati City.

I also witnessed last week how the rapid urbanization of Metro Manila excluded many of our countrymen. At the height of the flood along a stretch of EDSA towards Balintawak shortly before noon last Saturday, a family of three or four emerged from under a bridge. A small river, I believe it’s San Juan River, had threatened to overflow and spill over to EDSA. The family clearly escaped the raging river and abandoned their shack under the bridge.

The poor family had to settle above the bridge for safety amid the downpour. One child covered his head with lona, or canvas, to shield himself from the rain, while the father clutched his one-year-old baby and protected the younger child from the bad weather.

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The depressing sight is one of the symptoms of poorly planned urbanization that is Metro Manila, where over a dozen myopic mayors push their uncoordinated agendas. As the UN describes it, the cost of poorly planned urbanization is seen in some of the huge slums, tangled traffic, greenhouse gas emissions and sprawling suburbs across the world.

The smog that hovered over Metro Manila for days, meanwhile, reflect the daily traffic congestion that motorists and passengers experience in their travel routine. Local government units in Metro Manila had to suspend classes at all levels last week because of the heavy smog that enveloped the capital region. Many mistook the heavy smog for volcanic smog, or vog, from the restless Taal Volcano in the south.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) declared that the haze in the capital arose likely from heavy vehicular emissions. Rhea Torres, a state weather forecaster, explains thermal inversion, in which the air is hotter than the surface temperature, kept pollutants produced by vehicular emissions from being dissipated.

Metro Manila and other urban centers in the world are grappling with inequality in development and the high levels of urban energy consumption and pollution. Cities, according to the UN, occupy just 3 percent of the Earth’s land, but account for 60 percent to 80 per cent of energy consumption and 75 percent of carbon emissions.

“Many cities are also more vulnerable to climate change and natural disasters due to their high concentration of people and location so building urban resilience is crucial to avoid human, social and economic losses,” says the UN.

The UN paints a gloomier scenario, noting that most of the urban growth is taking place in small cities and intermediate towns, exacerbating inequalities and urban poverty.

“In 2020, an estimated 1.1 billion urban residents lived in slums or slum-like conditions, and over the next 30 years, an additional 2 billion people are expected to live in such settlements, mostly in developing countries,” warns the UN.

Metro Manila obviously was not prepared for its rapid urbanization. It failed to meet the demands for housing, infrastructure and services of the residents, leading to a rise in slums or slum-like conditions.

Development inequality, says the UN, can lead to unrest and insecurity, while pollution deteriorates everyone’s health and affects workers’ productivity, and eventually the economy.

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