HITTING two birds with one stone?

The Philippine government has its eyes on the relocation of almost 20,000 families living in the waterways of Metro Manila as a way to combat two of the region’s most sickening problems—housing and flooding, said Florencio Abad, secretary of the Department of Budget.

“By providing decent shelters in habitable environments to families living in waterways, we not only account for the safety of these communities, we also strike at one of the major causes of flooding in the metro,” he said in a statement.

Maxima Quiambao, chief of the Flood Control division of Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), said 25 to 35 percent of waterways in Metro Manila are already pestered with garbage and majority of these solid wastes come from informal settlers living near waterways.

Informal settlers throw garbage to water channels with reckless abandon knowing government agencies are available for clean-up, she said.

However, the flood control chief stressed the negative implications of increasing solid wastes in esteros.

“Cleanliness of waterways could greatly reduce flooding. If the esteros are full of garbage, their capacity will not be maximized as the latter will prevent water from reaching the pumping stations,” Quiambao said. “Water pumps slow down because water can’t flow through it, as it is being impeded by garbage in the waterways.”

Pumping stations drain water from low-lying areas and esteros to a larger body of water while removing sewage to prevent flooding.

In addition to garbage disposal in waterways, wastes hurled in land also add to the garbage during rainy season.

“When flooding occurs, garbage in land are being transported to esteros in the form of runoff,” Quiambao said.

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Runoff refers to rainwater flowing to streams along with suspended materials.

The MMDA conducted a clean-up drive from May 24 to June 18 to counter the effects of the piling of garbage in waterways, collecting 334 truckloads of garbage.

Quiambao said these wastes are collected using heavy equipment like backhoe or setting machine.

“The backhoe will accumulate the garbage using its digging bucket. The garbage will be transported to the truck then to the disposal area,” she said. “On the other hand, the setting machine, through its revolutionary action, will pound the garbage so water could easily flow.”

‘Band-aid’ solution?

As trashes will be eliminated, the government made a relocation plan for informal settlers who greatly contribute to the problem with the waterways.

Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the relocation does not only aim to address waste problems in waterways which cause perennial flooding, but also the safety of the squatters living in the danger zone.

“We don’t want the casualties during the typhoon season to happen on a yearly basis,” he said in a press briefing. “We want that eliminated totally and that’s the reason why we’re moving them away from the esteros or what we call the danger zones.”

Denying that the relocation of informal settlers is only a “band-aid” solution, Lacierda said the government has already planned and prepared for the relocation of squatters, adding that they are also protecting them from dangers imposed by floods and other diseases.

“Come typhoon season, there’s a danger of them being washed away,” he said. “At other times they could also be exposed to dengue, leptospirosis, and other diseases.”

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According to Lacierda, four thousand relocation units have already been constructed by the National Housing Authority, which meant that four thousand families will receive government assistance for their relocation.

However, he warned that informal settlers who will return to danger zones after relocation will be arrested, as there is a huge possibility that they will try to come back to their original abode.

Quiambao said informal settlers coming back to esteros only show the people’s lack of discipline. She stressed its importance, as this could make a difference in the community we are in.

“We, Filipinos, must learn. Not only should the MMDA be the disciplinarians, we should be disciplinarians to ourselves,” Quiambao said.

Environmental remedies

Aside from solid wastes flowing through murky waterways in Metro Manila, high amounts of biological oxygen demand should also be addressed, as it may also contribute to the amount of water pollution.

Environmentalists venture to the use of microorganisms and plants in cleaning the metropolitan’s esteros.

Estero de San Miguel, a portion of the Estero de Sampaloc running from Legarda to Lacson that may greatly affect the University during events of flooding, currently undergoes a water rehabilitation project known as bioremediation and phytoremediation.

Christian Noel Dotimas, Science Research Specialist from the Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, explained that bioremediation is a technique by which microorganisms are used to treat a contaminated environment by cleaning up toxic materials. Phytoremediation works in a similar fashion but plants are used in the absorption of contaminants.

“Bioremediation like the one in Mendiola (in Manila) makes use of a flocculant known as bio-colony and a water treatment medium that reduces biological oxygen demand known as Poly-Glu,” Dotimas said.

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A bio-colony is composed of bacterial species from the genus Bacillus that may serve as flocculant—a substance which allows the aggregation of suspended particles in a contaminated body of water.

Dotimas said bio-colony is an efficient water purifier since aggregated particles like sludge are decomposed by the bacteria together with other chemical pollutants present like ammonia, nitrous acid and hydrogen.

He emphasized that the biological oxygen demand, which refers to the amount of oxygen available to support aquatic life, should be maintained in low amounts.

“High amount of oxygen in the water implies a dirty environment since more aquatic organisms will thrive in the body of water causing eutrophication,” Dotimas said.

When aquatic organisms living in environments with high oxygen content die, their biological remains decompose into chemicals like nitrates and phosphates, which contribute to filthy aquatic environments.

According to Dotimas, if waterways in Metro Manila are purified using bioremediation, water draining to larger bodies of water like Pasig River will have better quality and may be used for leisure and recreation, a stepping stone in reverting back the abusive actions of man to the environment.

“There is a possibility to clean all [other] esteros as long as there will be intensive information and education campaign to the people and proper enforcement of environmental laws,” he said. A. C. D. Bonganay And J. Z. P. Ong

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