A Wake-Up Call


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The West Valley Fault. (Screengrab from ABS-CBNnews.com)

More so than the news of two ISIS operatives being apprehended in Taguig, Metro Manila was rocked by two sizable earthquakes in less than a week. The first earthquake registered 5.5 magnitude on the Richter Scale and happened on the 5th of April. While another, much stronger magnitude 5.9 earthquake sent residents panicking three days after. 

Earthquakes are not alien to the Capital and surrounding provinces, given that the National Capital Region (NCR) is sandwiched between two major fault lines. Experts have predicted that a very strong earthquake – dubbed “The Big One” – is bound to hit the Metropolis within this generation. This said earthquake will register at least a magnitude 7 on the Richter Scale.

Given that, why are we pouring most of our resources propping up new infrastructure projects in Manila? This will only make the potential damage of that quake even greater. If anything, we should exert efforts to decongest the Capital City instead.

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A study conducted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in 2004 for the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) gave a frightening preview of what “The Big One” will do to the Metropolis. The study simulated a magnitude 7.2 earthquake hitting Metro Manila and analyzing the potential damage that it will ensue. The study made use of 2004 data, when Manila’s population was only at 10 million. Today, there is an estimated 16 million residents in the Metropolis.

(PDF COPY OF STUDY: http://ndrrmc.gov.ph/attachments/article/1472/Earthquake_Impact_Reduction_Study_Volume_1.PDF)

According to the Metro Manila Earthquake Impact Reduction Study (MMEIRS) an earthquake that significant will see “40% of the total number of residential buildings within Metropolitan Manila collapse or be affected. This building collapse directly affects large numbers of people, since it is estimated to cause 34,000 deaths and 114,000 injuries.”

The damage does not end there, unfortunately, since the havoc will cause a massive fire to break out which will see a further 18,000 deaths. The study predicted that the scale of the damage will mean that this tragedy “will trigger a national crisis”.

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The MMEIRS explains why the predicted scenario is so disastrous: “the rapid urbanization of Metropolitan Manila has resulted in unsatisfactory infrastructure construction, poor housing condition, highly dense areas, and areas characterized by mixed land use and other inappropriate conditions.”

Based on graphics provided by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) as well as PHIVOLCS, most of the casualties will occur in the City of Manila and Quezon City. It is not a coincidence that the two cities are also among the most densely populated cities of the Metropolis. The risk associated with both cities is due to the overcrowding and the substandard buildings in the locale.

The high population can be associated with job opportunities, however there are also legions of shantytowns in these areas. These are people with no regular jobs and do not own their accommodations, hence there is an opportunity to resettle them in government housing units outside Metro Manila. Such a move will not only make the Metropolis less crowded, but you can also solve the problem of having urban slums which are an eyesore for a developing city.

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The population is also expected to swell even further, given that most of the economic development is centered in the Capital. This means that migration from the provinces will occur, thus further populating the Metropolis. What the government of Rodrigo Duterte should do, especially due to their strong regionalistic leanings which saw the President himself calling for development outside Manila, is to incentivize businesses to shift operations in the provinces or to deny new building applications and to redirect those planned developments elsewhere instead.

Decongesting the Capital is a safe bet, given that it is a good way to minimize damage of a potential tragedy. But even barring a disaster depopulating the area will also fix traffic woes and the worsening pollution. It makes economic sense as well to shift development to the provinces in order to spread the gains of economic growth and to spur prosperity in these areas.

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The earthquakes also took its toll on the neighboring province of Batangas. (Photo taken from Rappler)

The 2004 study pressed for immediate action by the government to reduce these risks, stating: “the potential for natural disaster in Metro Manila is high and the reduction of its vulnerability is a pressing issue for the safety of residents.” It’s been more than a decade since the report came out and urbanization continues, to a point where Metro Manila is now the most densely populated capital in the world.

There has been no political initiative to undertake that work so far, but hopefully the two recent earthquakes serve as wake-up calls for this current government to do so. It will take a lot of resources to pull-off, but it would be more costly if we keep building in Metro Manila – only for all that development to be reduced to rubble after “The Big One” hits. We need to be aware of this potential disaster and to stop putting all our eggs in the Manila basket.

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