Building in the midst of climate change in the Philippines

January 13, 2014 / By  

The Philippines became the focus of worldwide attention in 2013 due to the effects of Typhoon Haiyan. This typhoon, with sustained wind speeds of 270 km per hour and gusts of 312 km per hour, is said to be the strongest storm to make landfall in recorded history. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) reported that the typhoon affected 44 provinces in nine regions of the country.

NDRRMC likewise reported approximately one million residential structures were damaged by the typhoon; major damage was attributed to the strong winds and the storm surge. Almost half of the residential structures suffered irreparable damage, leaving at least half a million families homeless.

In the biblical story of the foolish man and the wise man, heavy rain caused floods that washed away the foolish man’s house that was built on sand while the wise man’s house remained firmly on the rock it stood on. This parable teaches the value of strong foundations; it relates to personal beliefs and even to actual physical structures. It takes longer to build strong foundations, but they are able to stand firm long after weaker structures are washed away.

In real estate, location is one of the primary foundations. River banks, coastal areas, landslide zones, and landfills are often poor locations and unsafe for residential development. The potential effects of climate change heighten this risk.

In the Philippines, a Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP) provides the roadmap of the intended arrangement and composition of real properties in a city. The CLUP, accompanied by a zoning ordinance, has a multi-sectoral approach to development. It addresses the environmental impact of development while addressing social and economic concerns. It allocates sections of a city for development into residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural areas, and designates the development density for each subdivision. The plan defines the strong foundation: locations designated for specific uses.

In the Eastern part of Visayas, central Philippines, seaside villages that went beyond the easement of 20 metres from the high water line were flattened by the storm surge caused by Haiyan. This prompted the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to designate no-build zones. Delineated no-build zones are reportedly up to 40 metres from the shoreline. However, no-build zones or easements of three to 40 metres (depending on the use of the land adjacent to the no-build zones) from bodies of water or water ways are already defined in the Philippine Water Code promulgated in 1976. These easements are likewise incorporated in the CLUP.

While restrictions are in place to reduce potential risks, we need to remind ourselves of the invaluable lives lost as a result of the leniency of implementation of these restrictions. In hindsight, damage could have been minimised. Today, though, we rebuild—aiming for stronger foundations.

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