Philippines Flooding: Disaster Preparedness

Feature | 22 July 2013

An ADB water pilot project helps make Sitio Pulo a disaster-resilient community through locally designed innovations.

Tanza, Navotas City - For once, confidence can be seen in the faces of residents of Sitio Pulo, a small low-lying island in Barangay Tanza, as they prepare for this year's rainy season and the floods it brings.

"Tonight, I can sleep better. The floods will come, but we are ready," Jacquiline Encillo, 45, a resident of Sitio Pulo, said.

Sitio Pulo is a small fishing community on a low-lying island off the shores of Navotas City which occupies a narrow strip of land along the eastern shores of Manila Bay. Due to its location, Sitio Pulo is frequently submerged in waist-deep water during high tide and heavy rains. An ADB pilot project tested locally designed innovations to build the community's resilience to floods.

The project originally focused on helping the community increase their flood preparedness through workshops on disaster risk reduction and assistance to construct a livelihood center on stilts, including a 2-storey multipurpose center. In response to the priorities identified by the residents, the project also funded the construction of a 500-meter bamboo bridge and helped repair an existing 13-meter long wooden bridge. Sitio Pulo residents helped build these structures.

Women residents, including Jacquiline, took part in the construction. "We helped in the carpentry, mixing cement, and other tasks," Jacquiline said proudly.

"The infrastructures that the program helped build were constructed using local, low cost materials and technologies," Arlene Lusterio of implementing NGO TAO-Pilipinas, said.

"The elevated livelihood center provides storage for rice and fishing nets, while the multipurpose center houses the community library, serves as a venue for workshops and children's tutorial center, and doubles as an evacuation center in times of flood. The bridges provide a connection from Sitio Pulo to the mainland even during floods," Arlene explained.

A disaster risk assessment manual and a toolkit on developing disaster-resilient construction materials and technologies in the local language were also produced.

Submerged community

In Navotas City the 4.5 kilometers of coastline and inland waterways are dotted with more than 7,000 informal settler families and fishing communities that are vulnerable to strong typhoons and suffer frequent flooding. Despite government efforts to relocate these families to safer areas, the fishing communities are committed to stay. Sitio Pulo is home to about 130 households, most of which depend on fishing and related small enterprises for their livelihood. Surrounded by fish pens, the island community has no potable water supply and no adequate sanitation facilities.

Jacquiline's husband Nilo is a second-generation fisherman, and it is through fishing that they have been able to send their 3 children to school.

"Before the bridges were built and repaired," Jacquiline explained, "we used to walk half a kilometer to the mainland on a narrow, muddy earth dike, which disappears during high tide and floods. If we have extra money, we pay 10 pesos (per person, one-way) for a boat ride to and from the island." The bridges provide easy access for Sitio Pulo residents to the Barangay Tanza evacuation center, about a kilometer away. "When the floods come, the bridges are our only way to safety," Jacquiline added.

Action Plan for the Future

With the help of TAO-Pilipinas, the residents of Sitio Pulo have established their own community organization called SAMASAISIP (Samahan ng Maralita sa Isla Pulo, or the Organization of the Poor of Isla Pulo). SAMASAISIP has formulated a community action plan to guide further developments. Among the planned developments are improved housing facilities and a dock for loading/unloading their boats. SAMASAISIP has also started a community savings program for their future projects and have embarked into other livelihood projects.

There may be no stopping the floods in Sitio Pulo, but the new infrastructures and a more organized community are now providing its residents some restful nights of sleep.

The Country Water Action series was developed to showcase reforms and good practices in the water sector undertaken by ADB's member countries. It offers a mix of experience and insights from projects funded by ADB and those undertaken directly by civil society, local governments, the private sector, media, and the academe. The Country Water Actions are regularly featured in ADB's Water for All News, which covers water sector developments in the Asia and Pacific region.