In greening its shorelines, Manila hopes to clean up pollution and reduce floods

Eusebio Jacinto, a staff officer from the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources, shows a bamboo planting intended to address Laguna de Bay’s issues with water pollution and flooding. Photo credit: Keith Schneider/Citiscope

Colonised by Spain, the Philippines is one of Asia’s many metropolitan areas, teeming with people and the associated traffic. Yet flooding and pollution, perilous side effects of rapid growth, present dangerous repercussions to Manila, the capital city of the Philippines, and major risks to its growing economic strength.

The polluted Laguna de Bay, a huge freshwater lake located along the eastern border of Metro Manila, Philippines, is one of the three largest freshwater lakes in Southeast Asia (SEA), serving many life-sustaining purposes from transportation via water, drinking water, and flood control.

But like many other water bodies in the Philippines, the dark waters of Laguna de Bay that sprawl over 90,000 hectares are both an economic and environmental hazard.

The lake sits right at the centre of a growing flood and sewage crisis in Metro Manila augmented by the region’s geographical location at the Pacific Ocean corridor that is producing storms with greater ferocity and discharging more rain than the landscape, already struggling, can manage.

With every storm, the flooding gets steadily worse, more lives are lost to the loosed water, and more people are left ill and stricken by the tide of sewage that gushes out of tanks and contaminates rivers that overflow.

For years, the local government and municipal public works have grappled with the issue, spending billions of pesos on hard fixes of concrete and steel. But now, authorities are introducing soft-path solutions aimed at better managing stormwater and cleaning the capital’s clogged waterways.


Bamboo, an essential help
Laguna de Bay’s ecological health and ability to store more water is central to the campaign, with the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) recently holding a public meeting to address just that.

The event space was quickly stuffed full to capacity at 400, and latecomers hung around open windows to hear of the soft-path solutions to Laguna de Bay’s pollution and flooding problems.

Not far away, along an arable stretch of land by the banks of the lake, the environment department had planted a small grove of bamboo trees to show how natural remedies had the potential to be cheaper, easier to manage, and more effective than man-made remedies in reining in soil erosion and siltation behind the pollution of Laguna de Bay while also making it shallower.

“These bamboo plants are a start of a much larger planting programme for the lake and for the country,” Eusebio Jacinto, a DENR staff officer, said to Citiscope. “Our plan is to plant 1.6 million hectares of bamboo, and 600,000 hectares of mangrove. We’re got to find better ways to keep pollution and sediments from getting into the lake and rivers.”

According to Jacinto, bamboo and mangroves are native to the Philippines, and widely considered to be sponges of nutrient and soil stabilisers. The Philippine government, in partnership with other cities in Manila and the region around the Laguna de Bay, has set aside eight billion pesos (US$161 million) to re-establish the mangrove and bamboo shoreline lost over the last decades to rapid economic development.

By slowing soil erosion and absorbing nutrients that would otherwise pollute the Laguna de Bay’s waters, the water will be cleaned, and the lake’s capability to store floodwater and stormwater should also improve, Jacinto explained to Citiscope.

District as well as city authorities are also clearing garbage and plants from the Pasig River and its tributaries that drain Laguna de Bay in order to offer the lake more drainage capacity.

Additionally, the ABS-CBN Foundation, a unit from the nation’s largest media company, spearheaded the restoration of the La Mesa Watershed near Quezon City, Manila, to slow erosion and put a halt to informal settlements from damaging a reservoir for drinking water by resettling families outside the boundaries of the watershed, planting trees, and establishing the La Mesa Ecopark, a popular recreational spot frequented by thousands of Filipinos.

“We did not need a lot of big machines and heavy equipment to restore the forest,” Sarah Charisma Alcayde-Agcaoili, La Mesa Ecopark director, said. “We did it with a lot of volunteers who worked with their hands and their feet.”

But the most striking thing about the relatively cost-efficient and low-tech method of approaching pollution prevention and flood reduction is its great contrariety to previous approaches.


Sources: Eco-Business, Citiscope