[Flood In The City: First of Two Parts]

FLOODING in Metro Cebu throughout the years has worsened and become more frequent, costing millions of pesos in damage to property, posing a threat to human lives and to business.

In 2022 alone, Cebu City and the rest of Metro Cebu experienced severe rains in July, August and September, resulting in periodic incidents of flooding and landslides in the city.

The Cebu City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (CCDRRMO) reported that in July 2022 around 20 barangays in the city were submerged in flood after days of heavy rains. Clogged and poorly maintained drainage systems and the piling up of garbage in the city’s major rivers contributed to the flooding.

CCDRRMO chief Harold Alcontin told SunStar Cebu that the Aug. 4 flooding cost the city around P600 million in destruction to property and infrastructure after the city-wide series of landslides and overflowing of several of its major rivers.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration Visayas reported that the provinces of Cebu and Bohol experienced heavy and continuous rainfall on Aug. 4, due to the combined presence of a low pressure area (LPA) and southwest monsoon or habagat, causing flooding, landslides and other flood-related incidents throughout the region.

Pagasa Visayas chief Alfredo Quiblat Jr. told SunStar Cebu that the 66 millimeters (mm) of rain that fell on Cebu on Aug. 4, 2022 was well above the normal average rainfall for a single day in August in the last 30 years, adding to the concerns caused by the record-setting rainfall of the day before.

The normal average rainfall for the entire month of August has been 157.9 mm for the last 30 years. But Aug. 3, 2022 alone saw 107 mm of rain hit Cebu, breaking the previous record of 96.6 mm of rainfall recorded on Aug. 17, 1982.

Trapped, swept away

In Cebu City alone, the CDRRMO responded to about 13 incidents on Aug. 4, most of which were landslides in the upland and flooding in the lowland. At least nine barangays were affected.

Earlier reports had said seven people were also trapped due to flooding in Sitio Bukog in Barangay T. Padilla, Sitio Tambisan in Barangay Tisa, Sitio Purok in Barangay Sambag, Sitio Langob in Barangay Buhisan, Sitio Boracay in Barangay Tisa, Sitio Tres de Abril in Barangay Labangon, and Sitio Lower in Barangay Carreta.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) reported that around 25 houses were destroyed and 51 houses were damaged due to the massive flooding.

Some were swept into the Kinalumsan River after the overflowing of water.

The NDRRMC also recorded 32 incidents of soil erosion and rain-induced landslides in Cebu City, mostly in the mountain barangays. The landslides rendered some upland roads impassable.

A 24-year old man was rescued after he and his shanty were swept by flood into the Kinalumsan River. Basil Baylosis of Barangay Duljo-Fatima was rescued by the disaster response team below the F. Vestil Bridge at Sitio Lawis, Mambaling in the river’s downstream.

On Sept. 9, the two-hour rainfall displaced more than 1,600 individuals in the cities of Cebu and Mandaue, according to the NDRRMC.

The heavy rainfall dropped 60 millimeters of water onto the metro’s northern parts, including the towns of Liloan and Consolacion, according to Pagasa Visayas.

A localized thunderstorm caused the intense rainfall, resulting in the swelling of Butuanon River, causing it to overflow and sweep away five houses and damage 15 others in Barangay Pit-os, Cebu City.

The river also flooded these areas in Mandaue City: Sitio Lub-ang in Barangay Casuntingan, UN Avenue in Barangay Umapad, Sitios Tambis and Talong in Barangay Paknaan, Sitio Salvacion in Barangay Maguikay, and Sitio Pulang Bukid in Barangay Alang-alang.

In Cebu City, Mayor Michael Rama ordered the fast-tracking of the clearing of the banks of the city’s rivers and other waterways of informal settlers and private owners as heavy rainfall and flooding pose a threat to the life and property of those staying along waterways.

To expedite the accomplishment of his goal, Rama created the Task Force Gubat sa Baha (War against Flooding) and named former environment secretary Roy Cimatu to implement the flood-control projects and measures to mitigate the flooding and turn the city into a flood-resilient one.

Socio-economic impacts

Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI) president Charles Kenneth Co told SunStar Cebu that aside from the residential areas, local businesses are among the most affected by heavy rainfall and flooding.

Also, when severe flooding in the city occurs, commuters, motorists and employees are stranded. Some are forced to wade in the flood due to impassable and submerged roads.

Highways and streets submerged in flood cause traffic jams, affecting the logistics sector and causing hours of delay in the delivery of goods and services from the factories and manufacturers to the retail stores, not to mention the damage to vehicles.

“Whether businesses or not, flooding is really a big inconvenience. Aside from the clogged waterways, it is caused by the garbage, which we should look at from that angle,” Co said.

Co said it has no study yet on the negative impact of flooding and other calamities on its members and the business sector in the city.

However, he said one of the significant impacts of flooding is its effect on potential investors: It could discourage businessmen from putting their investments in areas that are often hit by floods.

When Rama formed the special task force to combat flooding, Co expressed his support for the initiative to solve the perennial flooding problem of the city.

As for the business establishments affected in the waterway-clearing operations of the Cebu City Government, Co said due process must be upheld in resolving the issue.

However, Co added that private owners of these businesses must be considerate for the greater good of the city.

Flood-prone areas

Majority of Cebu City’s downtown area is susceptible to flooding, according to the 2018 Detailed Landslide and Flood Hazard Map of Cebu from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Central Visayas (DENR 7).

In a certain municipality or city, the MGB has four flood susceptibility categories: Low Flood, Moderate Flood, High Flood and Very High Flood.

In Cebu City, areas along the rivers and waterways and the coastal barangays are mostly categorized as Moderate, High and Very High Flood susceptible.

Under the High Flood Susceptibility, certain areas are likely to experience flood heights measuring more than one to two meters and/or which may last up to more than three days.

Areas under Very High Susceptibility can come across flood heights greater than two meters and which may last more than three days.

In addition, the areas under these categories are flooded immediately during heavy precipitation that lasts several hours, and usually prone to flash floods.

These areas include parts of Barangays Binaliw, Pulangbato, Pit-os, Bacayan, San Jose, Talamban, Apas, Kasambagan, Lahug, Hipodromo, Mabolo, Carreta, Tejero, Tinago, Lorega San Miguel, Guadalupe, Zapatera, Day-as, Parian, Santo Niño, San Roque, Kamagayan, Kalubihan (Colon area), Pahina Central, Ermita, Pasil, Suba, Sawang Calero, San Nicolas Proper, Duljo Fatima, Calamba, Sambag 2, Sambag 1, Labangon, Mambaling, Basak San Nicolas, Basak Pardo, Kinasang-an Pardo, Cogon Pardo, Bulacao and Inayawan, and North Reclamation Area.

Transmission of diseases

The lives and health of residents of flood-prone barangays are at risk because floodwaters serve as a vehicle of disease transmission, especially in urban areas.

Department of Health in Central Visayas (DOH 7) Regional Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit (Resu) chief Dr. Eugenia Mercedes Cañal told SunStar Cebu that the exposure to contaminated water increases the transmission of communicable diseases such as water-borne and vector-borne diseases.

This is why during rainy days, the public and local officials must be vigilant in preventing the spread of such diseases, said Cañal.

Water-borne diseases, the Resu chief said, are spread through the water contaminated with human or animal waste, and these include typhoid fever, cholera, leptospirosis and hepatitis A.

These diseases are commonly spread through ingestion of contaminated water and food or through skin and open wounds exposed to floodwater.

Some of the vector-borne diseases are dengue and malaria. A vector-borne disease comes from an infection transmitted to humans and other animals by blood-feeding anthropods such as mosquitoes, ticks and fleas. If left untreated, these diseases may lead to severe health conditions or death.

Based on the data from 2013 to Nov. 12, 2022 provided by the DOH 7 to SunStar Cebu, Cebu City recorded 193 cases of leptospirosis, 1,111 typhoid fever cases, 45 cases of cholera, and 265 cases of hepatitis A.

Dengue fever topped the list with 26,259 cases in Cebu City in the same period.

Cañal explained that most of these cases were not entirely connected to the exposure to flood, based on their monitoring and surveillance.

However, Cañal said exposure to floodwater was regarded as one of the many contributing factors to be considered in the transmission of these diseases.

For instance, floodwater could have slipped into water pipes during a downpour, contaminating and compromising safe and reliable drinking water.

The official added that the spread of these cases was seen to be caused by poor hygiene etiquette and an unsanitary environment.

To prevent the spread of these diseases, particularly in times of floods and typhoons, Cañal reminded the public to boil drinking water for at least two minutes.

Another option is putting chlorine in the water as an alternative to make drinking water safe for consumption.

Food and beverage must be properly prepared and cooked well before serving, and washing of hands must be a habit before and after eating and also during toilet use, Cañal said.

“Usually, if there is flooding, do not wade in the flood. If you cannot avoid doing it, you must wear boots,” Cañal said.

Most importantly, Cañal said any person or a family member showing signs or symptoms of these infections should seek immediate medical attention.

GDP loss

According to the study titled “Aquanomics: The Economics of Water Risk and Future Resilience,” the Philippines may lose up to $124 billion or P6.8 trillion of gross domestic product (GDP) due to water-related disasters between 2022 and 2050.

GDP represents the value of all goods and services produced by a country within a given period.

The recent study conducted by GHD, a multinational technical professional services firm, stated that this works out to about a 0.7 percent average annual GDP loss for the country until 2050, ranking the Philippines as the fourth-most affected country with around 20 typhoons entering the country per year.

Flooding and other water-related disasters significantly affect the sector of manufacturing and distribution, agriculture, retail, banking and insurance, and energy and utilities.

Fifty-one percent of direct losses are attributed to storms, 46 percent to floods and three percent to drought.

The study has also predicted over 90 percent or $89 billion of direct losses to the country’s GDP due to typhoons and floods.

Tropical storms will cause the most havoc and damage, making the agricultural sector of the country a major victim, costing the sector about $23 billion in damage and average annual output loss of 0.9 percent.

“Major infrastructure and population centers are located on the coastal plains, exposing them to flooding and storm events,” Darren Shrives, Philippines general manager of GHD, said in the report.

Meanwhile, the World Bank in its “Country Climate and Development Report” published last October has warned against the country’s inaction in solving flooding due to the accelerating effect of climate change as flooding brings substantial economic and human costs of up to 13.6 percent loss to the country’s GDP until 2040.

It is projected that the country’s temperature will continue to increase up to one degree Celsius on average and two degrees Celsius or more in extreme scenarios by the end of the century.

The country’s precipitation may not change; however, it will become more variable, which will affect the seasonal distribution, bringing drier dry seasons from January to May and wetter wet seasons from June to December.

If climate change will not be addressed, the World Bank warns, extreme weather events will become stronger and more frequent, bringing more intense rain and resulting in floods and landslides.

“Left unaddressed, extreme weather events and slow-onset changes in temperature and rainfall patterns will significantly lower growth and the wellbeing of Filipinos,” the World Bank said in the report.

Banks and infrastructure

The World Bank added that the country’s financial sector is highly vulnerable to climate risks, particularly the banking system.

Frequent disasters can greatly affect the capacity of the borrowers to repay loans and investment, while the damage on underlying collateral can potentially affect a bank’s profitability and solvency.

To combat these challenges, GHD suggested investing in infrastructure, working with nature to channel water away from the flood zones, despite the challenging retrofitting solutions in densely populated urban areas.

“Investment needs to be targeted to building infrastructure in the right areas and working with nature to channel water away, carrying out flood studies and building infrastructure out of flood zones where possible, but this can be challenging when retrofitting solutions in densely populated urban areas,” Shrives said.

A reduction of two-thirds can be applied to economic loss if measures to adapt to climate will be implemented, the World Bank said.

This includes focusing on key adaptation measures in agriculture, infrastructure, and human capital, which reduce the mean impact of damage in 2030 from 3.7 percent of GDP to 1.2 percent, and in 2050, from 11 percent to 3.8 percent.

The institution added that adaptation would support advanced manufacturing and construction growth, increasing employment by nearly 80,000 jobs by 2030.

(Second part to be out on February 17, 2023: Reclaiming waterways)