Swimming Murky Waters to Greener Pastures — A true story of how plastic waste led to devastating floods in the Philippines
Christian Dominic Angelo L. Sobremonte (Nicco) recounts the horrors of flooding in his village and how plastic waste was found to be a major cause of it. Read on to find out how the fragile ecological balance in the Philippines is being realigned to combat the menace of plastic pollution.
November 13, 2020. I looked back at my brother’s photos of what happened to our home. We were upstairs thinking of our next steps as to how we could move forward from the aftermath caused by the rains of Typhoon Ulysses. I remembered the minute the power went out, and the pitch-black darkness escalated into the chaos we endured until the sun came out. Looking back at when the water rose, and we evacuated quickly made me shiver, scared, and traumatized. My life during that time flashed before my eyes, and all I could think about was keeping my family safe from the storm. It wasn’t my first time to endure these since we already grew accustomed to preparing for these kinds of disasters. Although they varied in circumstances, this particular storm was the worst out of all those I encountered and survived in my lifetime.
I am a three-time flash flood survivor. All these occurred when my family and I lived in a rented apartment at Provident Village in Marikina City. Although the floods happened under various circumstances, they shared common characteristics you would typically see when encountering a flood in your neighborhood. We had to move all our belongings up to the second floor, prepare our supplies and first-aid kits, and seek shelter for neighbors with higher floors while daring the torrential rains and strong winds. It was heart-wrenching to see many people suffer from these conditions, given that these are brought about by natural occurrences and not just human intervention. The various stories and testimonials shared by my fellow survivors attest that the challenges and hardships we went through left a lasting impression on our lives.
The wounds by Typhoons Ondoy and Ulysses left an indelible scar on my fellow Marikenos. It was sheer coincidence that both of these happened within a decade after their onslaught while the city continues to rehabilitate from its damaging effects.
I found three statistical indicators intriguing, as both typhoons produced similar figures. These showed how destructive they both were in the impact they left after their onslaught:
- First, in terms of total rainfall intensity, or the amount of rain produced throughout its presence within their period, Ondoy made more than Ulysses but is within the 1,400 mm range of rain (as reported by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA); Cayabyab, 2020). The torrential rains produced by both typhoons were done within 30 to 32 hours, contributing to the critical water levels reached by the Marikina River of 29 meters, wherein the water has reached the height of the Marikina Bridge (Cayabyab, 2020).
- Second, Ondoy and Ulysses left the city with insurmountable economic damage. The former submerged eight of the 16 barangays (50% of the entire city area) into floodwaters, wherein it significantly contributed to the P4.39 billion damage in infrastructure alone out of the P11.06 billion total across the country (GMA News Online, 2010). On the other hand, according to our city mayor Marcy Teodoro, Ulysses left an estimated P30 billion worth of damage which primarily affected the shoe manufacturing and merchandising industries alone (Gonzales, 2020). He added that its effects will persist while the city rehabilitates basic infrastructure and services, citing family and financial conditions as indicators (Gonzales, 2020).
- Lastly, Ondoy and Ulysses left families and individuals displaced without a home to go back to and/or grieving the loss of their loved ones. Ondoy affected five million people or roughly a million families (Olan, 2014). The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) cited that 710 lives were claimed from the four-day ordeal, with 37 others still reported missing and presumed dead, most of whom lived in our city (Mayuga, 2018). Mayor Teodoro’s statistics on Ulysses are also similar to what was experienced during Ondoy, with 40,000 homes in Marikina submerged in floodwaters during Ulysses (Gonzales, 2020). Its national statistics are also similar but with a sharp drop in casualties and persons reported missing.
One may ask who and what is to blame for the widespread flooding conditions that persisted during the onslaught of Ondoy and Ulysses. Some may argue that those who operated the major water dams by releasing water during the height of the storm to avoid spilling and overcapacity (Miclat, 2009). Some say it was those who took advantage of natural landmarks like the Sierra Madre Mountains with various land development projects that cost millions of trees as a source of protection from the storm (Verzosa & CNN Philippines Life, 2020). Others think it was because of the local government units’ poor development planning and management of disaster risk reduction and environmental protection (Tharoor, 2009). All may have had good intentions, but it is becoming apparent that what we endured during those typhoons forms part of the consequences various experts warned us about if we continue taking environmental initiatives for granted.
It is fitting that this year’s World Environment Day revolves around educating the public on the effects of plastic pollution. The official website cites that less than 10% of the 400 million tons of plastic is recycled, leaving the majority used once only. Our city, even in other parts of Metro Manila, determined that single-use plastic was a primary contributor to the widespread floods in low-lying areas during Ondoy as it clogged the sewage system in the city (Tharoor, 2009). The same circumstance can be said with Ulysses, as mentioned in an article by Andreas Klippe of Flood Control Asia, where mountains of plastic waste contributed to flood damage (2021). Fortunately, we were able to turn around such a problem by doing our part to ensure that we avoid the same circumstances when stronger typhoons come during the season. As such, our city mayor back then, Del de Guzman, implemented an ordinance in 2012 regulating the use of plastic for public consumption (Calleja, 2012). Since then, declogging has become an integral part of the city’s environmental protection initiatives alongside others that have been tried and tested to be effective. Among these include the Eco-Savers program, where students are encouraged to segregate their waste and garbage, and the tree planting and reforestation efforts in the Marikina Watershed (now declared a protected area through Proclamation no. 296, s.2011; Verzosa & CNN Philippines Life, 2020).
My family and I moved from Provident Village to a higher place in the city a few months after the onslaught of Typhoon Ulysses. The ordeal we endured in surviving the flash floods will forever be ingrained in our hearts and minds. Despite its varying circumstances, it made us more aware of how we can prepare in anticipation of a natural disaster that is of similar intensity. Moreover, it motivated me to advocate for environmental conservation and the protection of our natural resources. Simple acts, such as waste segregation and tree planting, can make a difference towards a planet that is safe to live in and greener than ever. As we celebrate World Environment Day this month, I aspire that more people participate in various activities to mitigate solutions to other environmental problems such as climate change, global warming, and rising atmospheric temperatures. If we don’t do something now, how long will it take us to suffer?
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Calleja, N. (2012, May 22). Marikina to soon ban plastic bags, packages. INQUIRER.net. https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/197583/marikina-to-soon-ban-plastic-bags-packages
Cayabyab, M. J. (2020, November 27). Tropical storm Ondoy still worse than Typhoon Ulysses — MMDA. https://www.onenews.ph/articles/tropical-storm-ondoy-still-worse-than-typhoon-ulysses-mmda
GMA News Online. (2010, September 1). Marikina City to honor Ondoy victims on September 26. GMA News Online. https://www.gmanetwork.com/news/topstories/nation/199932/marikina-city-to-honor-ondoy-victims-on-september-26/story/
Gonzales, C. (2020, November 17). Damage caused by Ulysses in Marikina City is estimated at P30B. INQUIRER.net. https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1361580/damage-caused-by-ulysses-in-marikina-city-estimated-at-p30b
Klippe, A. (2021, December 16). Typhoon stories part iii: Flooding during Typhoon Ulysses — did Marikina River overflow cause that? Flood Control Asia RS. https://floodcontrol.asia/marikina-river-overflow/
Mayuga, J. L. (2018, September 3). Have we learned the lessons from Typhoon Ondoy? BusinessMirror. https://businessmirror.com.ph/2018/09/02/have-we-learned-the-lessons-from-ondoy/
Miclat, S. (2009, November 4). Responding to the environmental extremes and the economics of the Times — Part 2. Institute of Environmental Science for Social Change. https://essc.org.ph/content/view/250/153/
Olan, S. J. (2014, September 26). Looking back: The records of Ondoy. RAPPLER. https://www.rappler.com/environment/disasters/70240-ondoy-records/
Tharoor, I. (2009, September 29). The Manila Floods: Why wasn’t the city prepared? Time. https://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1926646,00.html
UN Environment Programme. (n.d.). About — 2023 Theme and Host — World Environment Day. World Environment Day. https://www.worldenvironmentday.global/about/theme-host#:~:text=About&text=The%20theme%20for%20World%20Environment,pollution%20under%20the%20campaign%20%23BeatPlasticPollution.
Verzosa, J., & CNN Philippines Life. (2020, November 18). Look: The aftermath of Ulysses in Marikina. https://www.cnnphilippines.com/life/culture/2020/11/18/marikina-ulysses-aftermath-photo-essay.html
About the Author
Christian Dominic Angelo Sobremonte, known as Nicco to everyone he meets, is a Program Associate for Incubation at Villgro Philippines. He is part of the AI4Health Asia accelerator, in partnership with IDRC Canada, and is deeply involved in end-to-end management, incubation support, and leading virtual and in-person events for Villgro Philippines.
Connect with Nicco at firstname.lastname@example.org