Stemming the Tide: Community-led Plans and Solutions for Flood Control in the Philippines

It was a Saturday in September 2009, when I was in my last year in college. The clouds looked dense and it had been raining since four o’clock that morning. I had never experienced such heavy rainfall before. By the time our professor dismissed our class, the ground floor of the building had already flooded. I had to climb on the roof of the pedicab to get to the nearest train station. The flood was already waist deep at that time. Looking out the window, you could already sense the devastating impacts of Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana).

According to news reports, Typhoon Ondoy dumped 18 inches of rainfall over a 24–hour period. The raging waters and cars floating on the streets of Metro Manila and its nearby provinces, including Rizal where I lived, trapped people in their homes without access to electricity. I was finally able to reach home Monday morning, nearly two days later. This was my own personal experience of how flooding became a harsh way of life for millions of Filipinos. Through my work with the International Accountability Project (IAP), I saw more clearly the roles communities, NGOs, governments and development banks can play in improving lives.

Destructive typhoons such as Ondoy have increasingly hit the Philippines - causing floods, damage to property, displacement of people and fatalities. After 2009, the government began to conduct studies on flood risks in Metro Manila. In 2012, the government announced the completion of a “Flood Management Master Plan” that called for the development of eleven infrastructure projects around Laguna de Bay.

These projects included the Cavite — Laguna Expressway around the lake, the West Laguna Lake Shore Land Raising projects and the construction of spillways, a mega-dike, dredging works and improvements to urban drainage systems. The projects have received loans from the development finance institutions like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

Ever since Typhoon Ondoy, typhoons are becoming stronger and stronger each year. In the past 8 years, seven incredibly destructive typhoons hit the country, flooding homes and displacing people. These short intervals have left communities with no almost no time to recover. Despite the devastation of flooding and their desire for flood prevention efforts, communities have not been consistently informed or consulted about possible projects. People are equally concerned about the potential impacts of the government’s response to such calamities. Many vulnerable people will be evicted to make way for flood management projects, including informal settlers who already live in poor conditions.

Global Advocacy Team member, Jessica Amon, speaks at the launch of the report “Back to Development- A Call for What Development Could Be”

This was on my mind when I went home to the Philippines for three weeks in August. I had the opportunity to witness the launch of the report, Back to Development: A Call for What Development Could Be that was compiled by International Accountability Project’s Global Advocacy Team. The report is a product of community–led research in 8 countries namely Burma, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Cambodia, Egypt, Mongolia, Panama and the Philippines. The team created a research process and survey to document community expertise and recommendations for development. The report provides a guide for all of us involved in development, whether as part of a local community or as staff of a development bank, to understand how development can truly be community-led.

Jessica Amon, who organized the effort to look into the flood management plans affecting Biñan City, presented and spoke about the findings of the community-led research process. The findings from the report, presented below, show how expertise from impacted communities can improve the government’s flood management projects:

  1. Communities agree that flood control is a priority. Community members are in agreement with the government and international donors that flood control is a priority for development. However, the people that were surveyed strongly disagree with the process by which the government and development partners are proposing to address flood control measures. Specifically, they are opposed to the lack of consultation and opportunities for them to participate in designing the approach to flood control.
  2. The government has not consulted with the community neither did they inform them how will the flood management program will impact their lives. According to the report, the lack of consultation in Biñan City, for example, is not unique. Community members have reported that national and local governments rarely allow citizens to participate in development projects. 85% said that the government has never consulted them on development priorities for the country or region. With the exception of some government social welfare programs, people do not have an opportunity to provide inputs into government decisions.
  3. Despite lack of government consultation, local people are organizing to create alternative solutions to housing and flood control plans. Of all the people surveyed, 83% provided specific comments on how they would like to be consulted and how a meaningful consultation process should operate. Many people insisted that if they are resettled, it should be to a location nearby where they could access jobs, schools and basic services without having to travel long distances. Many others stressed the importance of having secure land tenure at their new homes.
  4. Several existing factors could lead to problems during the resettlement process. Lastly of those surveyed, 76% said that they do not have title to the land on which they are currently living. This creates a risk that they are treated as second — class citizens when they are resettled. 83% also said that they believe their source of livelihood will change in the future. Many expect to face the difficulties in finding new jobs, especially if they were relocated far outside the city.

The Philippines Flood Management Control projects can be in the public interest if they are built carefully with the input of communities most often affected. With support of IAP’s partner, Community Organizer Multiversity, some communities have produced comprehensive “People’s Plans for development for their communities.

People’s Plans collect citizen-generated proposals for flood control. It is based on the idea that solutions for resettlement, basic services, and other issues should always comes first from the people. The participatory nature of the process builds a strong sense of ownership among local people for the plan that emerges. I believe People’s plans can be a model that can be mainstreamed to discover permanent and inclusive solutions in the Philippines. What we need now is a clear understanding and commitment to communities’ roles in pursuing development and being part of governance.

Annabel Perreras was the 2016 Policy Coordinator/ Smitu Kothari Fellow at International Accountability Project (IAP). In 2017, Ann returned to Manila and works for the NGO Forum on the Asian Development Bank.

International Accountability Project works to defend the rights, land and livelihoods of people threatened by destructive development projects.

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