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Waters rising, spirits falling

It is rainy season in the Philippines, the season of floods and drowning. For 11 days now, it has been raining nonstop. A huge blanket of dark clouds hovers above. It is cold and wet everywhere. Large parts of Metro Manila in the national capital region have seen waters rise as high as the roof of a two-storey house.

Coping with floodwaters, by IRRI images

Photo by IRRI Images under a CC Licence

Welcome to the Philippines: at this time of the year, classes are suspended by the education department just as the children have left for school; people get stranded at the airport because flights are cancelled hastily; flood waters rise faster than one can decide what to do; and garbage blocks the gutters. Two years ago, more than 300 people died because of flooding.

It is the same problem every rainy season, and for three months this country tries to endure.

Mother Nature’s wrath isn’t the only thing to be blamed, however. Corruption in the public works department and poor waste management add significantly to the problem.

The country’s roads, for instance, are mostly of poor quality and are damaged easily in heavy rain.
In the cycle of repairing old – and even newly constructed – roads, corrupt government officials siphon off funds from contractors, leaving the hapless firms with less money for the actual projects.

Perceived as among the most corrupt of the government agencies, the country’s Department of Public Works and Highways awarded over 27,500 civil works contracts between 2000 and 2008, but most of the projects involved maintenance works and not the construction of new highways.

Government officials and two presidential sons have bagged the contracts, which amounted to an equivalent of $8.14 million.

Because contractors have to pay ‘grease’ money – usually 30 per cent of the total cost – to secure projects from the government, some of them end up spending less for the actual road works to save on costs. Quality is sacrificed.

In the past, the Washington-based World Bank has banned at least four contractors from participating in public works projects which it was funding.

Improving waste management should also be a priority, so that next time heavy rains fall, the garbage goes through the proper channels and does not block the drainage system.

But there’s a long way to go before this problem is properly addressed: this is Manila, land of mayhem and chaos; of floodwaters that kill people every year; of stranded commuters; of tattered homes washed away by the rains; of children missing classes because of the flood; of killer landslides; of traffic jams that last for hours; of people getting sick because of poor sanitation during rainy season; and worst of all, of a government that allows all these things to happen – again and again.

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