Reuters

Growth in population and informal settling has increased the flood's toll in Manila.

Unchecked development and rapidly growing informal settlements in metropolitan Manila have exacerbated the devastation of the recent flooding in the Philippines, according to a UN official.

Speaking with The Philippine Star, Margareta Wahlström, chief of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, notes that the growing numbers of people living on unsuitable land in Manila put them directly in the path of the massive but not unexpected flooding that happens during the summer monsoon season.

"As the urban sprawl of rapid urbanization expands outwards and upwards, it provides ready opportunities for hazards such as floods, storms and earthquakes to wreak havoc," Wahlström said. "Urban floods will represent the lion's share of total flood impact because of infrastructure, institutions and processes that are not yet up to the task ahead."

This report from CNN says that 60 people have died, 3,100 homes have been damaged, and more than 2.4 million people in 144 municipalities have been impacted by the heavy rains falling over the past five days. The UN says that millions of slum dwellers were among those in metro Manila forced to evacuate their homes, though no clear numbers are available.

Floodplains and vulnerable lands are commonly used as informal settlements. It's unclear how many slum dwellers currently live in metro Manila, but this 2003 report from UN-Habitat estimated the population at 2.5 million. That's about 20 percent of the metro area's roughly 12 million people – a figure that has more than doubled [PDF] since 1980. According to the UN report, most of these slum dwellers live along rivers, near garbage dumps and railroad tracks, under bridges and next to industrial sites. "Although there are relatively large slum communities," the report notes, "the settlement pattern of the Metro Manila urban poor is generally dispersed, located wherever there is space and opportunity."

In 2010, officials from the World Health Organization warned that Manila was growing "fast and randomly" and that the rapidly increasing slum populations would pose significant health risks. Insufficient infrastructure would continue to lead to disease outbreaks, in addition to leaving millions vulnerable to natural disasters.

Informal settling and unplanned floodplain development will continue to pose risks for large segments of the population in Manila. As highlighted in a 2012 report from the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, rapidly expanding cities like Manila will have to more formally control the use of land in these disaster-prone areas to prevent the widespread personal and economic devastation wrought by these recurring floods.

Top image: A child jumps into the floodwater in a slum area in the city of Navotas, in Metro Manila. Credit: John Javellana / Reuters

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. An autonomous vehicle drives on a race track in California.
    Equity

    Driverless Cars Won’t Save Us

    In fact, they’ll do the opposite of what techno-optimists hope, and worsen—not ease—inequality.

  2. Transportation

    Why Is African Air Travel So Terrible?

    Taking a flight between cities in different African nations is often expensive, circuitous, and unsafe. But better days for travelers may be coming.

  3. A scene from Hey Arnold! is pictured.
    Life

    Even Hey Arnold's Neighborhood Is Gentrifying Now

    Series creator Craig Bartlett explains how he built the cartoon city that every ‘90s kid dreamed of living in.

  4. An illustration of a front porch.
    Life

    America Rediscovers Its Love of the Front Porch

    In the 20th century, porches couldn’t compete with TV and air conditioning. Now this classic feature of American homes is staging a comeback as something more stylish and image-conscious than ever before.

  5. A row of tractor trailers lined up at a truck stop.
    Transportation

    The Truckers Who Are Taking on Human Trafficking

    In Arkansas, the “knights of the road” are being trained to combat truck-stop prostitution.