The Need to Protect Flood-management Infrastructure from Floods


Andreas Klippe no responses February 2, 2021

Note: This article was published on the BusinessWorld.

Estrero de Sunog Apog Pumping Station

Eleven years ago in September 2009, Tropical Storm “Ondoy”, internationally named as “Ketsana”, plunged many parts of Metro Manila into waist to rooftop-level floodwaters. The people of Metro Manila, especially those in the cities of Pasig, Quezon, Manila,

Caloocan, Muntinlupa and Marikina lost their homes and livelihoods. Some, unfortunately, lost their lives. Cold, tired, hungry and weak, some even had managed to climb the highest parts of their houses, waiting for the floodwaters to cease.

Eleven years later, with the horror of “Ondoy” still in the consciousness of some, another typhoon struck Metro Manila. Typhoon “Ulysses”, internationally named “Vamco”, again, brought the people of Manila to another horrendous, heart-stopping calamity.

Residents walking on electric wires and swimming on floodwaters during Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana)

“Déjà vu? It’s happening again.”

Actually, In Quezon City, “Ulysses” only recorded a rainfall intensity of 150 millimeters of rain within a 24-hour period; “Ondoy”, on the other hand, dumped 411 millimeters within a nine-hour period. Similarly, a report also indicated that in Tanay, Rizal, “Ulysses” recorded 356 millimeters in within a 24-hour period. This is still lower than what was recorded for “Ondoy”. Considering this data, “Ulysses” should be less destructive than “Ondoy”.

Or so we thought.

Despite the smaller amount of rainfall, we have seen major flooding situations in many parts of the Metro, especially in Marikina City. PAGASA noted that the occurrence of three more storms before “Ulysses” contributed to the massive flooding. Typhoon “Pepito” (Saudel), Typhoon “Quinta” (Molave) and Super Typhoon “Rolly” (Goni) were the three typhoons that preceded “Ulysses”.

Many parts of Metro Manila inundated in floodwaters during Typhoon Ulysses (Vamco)

PUMP OUT THE FLOOD

In the 1970s, water pumping stations were built as a solution for Metro Manila’s flood problem. These stations work as a means for pumping out the water from the flooded areas to the river or any bodies of water. Without these pumping stations doing their jobs, we can be certain that the whole of Metro Manila will be plunged underwater. Currently, there are 64 pumping stations in the Metro according to Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA). Because they help the floodwater subside immediately, it is necessary that the pumping stations are working efficiently.

These stations work as a means for pumping out the water from the flooded areas to the river or any bodies of water. Without these pumping stations doing their jobs, we can be certain that the whole of Metro Manila will be plunged underwater.

However, considering the extremity of flood problems, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the MMDA, with financial funding from the World Bank have set up a plan that will improve Metro Manila’s resilience to flooding. This initiative gave birth to the Metro Manila Flood Management Project. Basically, one of the aims of this project is to improve the urban drainage system, modernize existing pumping stations and construct new ones. The project will modernize 36 existing pumping stations around the Metro. It will also put up 20 new pumping stations. This is thought to be a very noble cause since a lot of the drainage pipes and pumping stations were built 50 years ago and need some serious renovation.

One of the pumping stations in Metro Manila

OH, THE IRONY!

Water pumping stations work to manage flood so it is so ironic when they are flooded. Flooding occurs when accumulated garbage clog the drainage or the river overflows and drench the stations.

Flooding can damage the mechanical and electrical components of the pumping stations. It can also cause corrosion and leakage to the equipment. When an equipment is damaged, it needs to be repaired. Repairing requires money to be spent. Repairing requires time to be spent. Not only that, the problem escalates when another typhoon surfaces in the midst of repairing a pumping station destroyed by a preceding typhoon. What if a series of typhoons continuously batter the country in just a few months and we are in the middle of repairing a destroyed pumping station? Do you honestly think we can proceed with repairing?

IS MODERNIZING ENOUGH?

Given these, the question about the sustainability of water pumping situations is put into question. One may also ask if it is enough to just modernize them. Floodwaters do not choose which pumping stations are “modernized” and which are not. Flood does not stop even at the most modern infrastructure. It just does what it usually does — flow to us and plunge us.

Do you remember Hurricane Katrina that struck the United States of America in 2005? During this Category 5 Atlantic Hurricane, some infrastructures were damaged. Among them was the water system which consisted of 125 miles of pipes and 90 pumping stations. A study by Elizabeth Chilsom titled, “Impact of Hurricanes and Flooding on Buried Infrastructure” spells the damage that flooding brought to the water system. According to the study, “Flooding exposed pipes to conditions such as subsidence, soil swelling, and the loss of bedding support through the infiltration of water… It took four days to repressurize the water system…”

Floodwaters do not choose which pumping stations are “modernized” and which are not. Flood does not stop even at the most modern infrastructure. It just does what it usually does — flow to us and plunge us.

If this can happen to a developed country, what are the chances of it happening to the Philippines? We cannot be left unguarded to what can happen in the next months and the next years. If “Ulysses”, which is not even as strong as “Ondoy”, can cause massive flooding, how sure are we that we will not be flooded by another “ordinary” typhoon? No, we can not be sure of anything, much less we should let our guards down.

Tondo Estrero declogged so flooding can be prevented

The Philippine government has done greatly with this initiative of improving the water pumping systems. However, we should always consider that these stations can also be prone to flooding. Flood-protecting the stations can save the government a lot of worry. It can focus on other matters like providing support to the residents stricken with flood.The government can also save a lot of money because there is not a need for unnecessary repair.

BLOCK THE FLOOD

To save these infrastructures, one effective solution is the setting up of barriers. Flood barriers are structures that are put around a house, a property, a building or an equipment to stop flood from getting into it during heavy flooding caused by typhoons or intermittent rain. 

It is very pleasing that the DPWH and MMDA with the World Bank, aim to improve the water pumping systems. However, we should take into consideration that modernizing these critical infrastructures is not enough. We have to protect the stations. We have to protect the equipment therein. There are many problems that cannot be easily solved by merely “modernizing”.

Protecting communities and properties through flood barriers

There is still the issue with garbage. There is still a problem with the river overflowing. There is still a concern about low-lying areas. Modernizing the water pumping stations, as I have mentioned, is a noble cause. But it is not enough.

We have to protect the stations. We have to protect the equipment therein. There are many problems that cannot be easily solved by merely ‘modernizing’.

What we need to do is protect these infrastructures with flood barriers. Only when we protect them can they also protect us against floods. And only when we are protected will we continue protecting our families and our properties. 

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Stay safe and flood-free.

Andreas Klippe

About the author

Andreas Klippe is founder of the Asian Center for Flood Control located in Clark Freeport Zone, Philippines.

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