Editorial: Converting Cebu into a “sponge city”

·3 min read

What if Cebu converted its flash floods into reusable resources to develop communities?

The flooding that submerged communities in four Metro Cebu cities was blamed by the authorities on flood control projects and irresponsible waste disposal, reported a SunStar Cebu team on Aug. 5, 2022.

Cebu City Councilor Gerry Guardo, who chairs the committee on infrastructure and urban planning, said that the embankments used by heavy equipment in four flood control projects obstructed water pathways and caused the overflow after heavy rains.

Guardo said that he will urge the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to speed up work, optimistic that once these projects are completed, flooding will be prevented.

Mandaue City Mayor Jonas Cortes is of a different mind. He urges citizens to cooperate with the government through responsible disposal of garbage.

Decongesting natural and man-made waterways is a perpetual project of local governments. In counterpoint are the waste produced as industriously by households and companies, which dump heedlessly in rivers and canals. The Mandaue Office of the City Engineer shows that the danger zones that are flood-prone are also clogged by garbage.

What is missing in the official diagnosis of the flooding of cities is the impact of climate change.

The human, social, and ecological factors underlying flooding and other challenges of urbanization have pushed urban planning and development to veer away from diverting excess water to collecting and reusing water, a resource that can be harmful when in excess or scarcity.

The transformation of “sponge cities” is being embraced by Shanghai, New York, and Cardiff planners and implementors, who recognize that as global temperatures rise, heavy rainfall and floods are imminent.

Globally, 700 million people face extreme rainfall and the inevitable flooding, according to an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report cited by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and the United Nations Climate Change High-level Champions, which are governments and non-state actors committed to achieving the goals on climate action in the Paris Agreement.

While the conventional approach to prevent flooding focuses on “grey infrastructure” for flood control, which use concrete, sponge cities balance buildings and pavements with “green and blue infrastructure,” which emphasize plants, trees, ponds, lakes, and parks that absorb more water and minimize evaporation, creating cities that are flood- and drought-proof.

According to the article posted on www.climatechampions.unfccc.int, natural solutions for absorbing urban water were found to be 50 percent more affordable than man-made ones in a survey conducted by the global design firm Arup and the World Economic Forum.

Promoting green champions among politicians is as gargantuan a challenge as solving urban flooding. Commissions and kickbacks continue to boost the attraction of infrastructure projects for politicians whose self-interest conflicts with the greater good.

For public servants, the “sponginess” of disaster-resilient communities demands consultations and partnerships between the government and the public.

Rainwater management programs channel public funds into sustainable green and blue infrastructure to make cities livable and safe, especially for vulnerable communities in informal settlements and socialized housing.

Citizens must share the stake in responding to climate change. City parks, urban farms, and sidewalks and pavements lined with trees and plants can be sustained with civic cooperation.

Putting up rainwater catchments at home; converting green roofs or rooftop gardens in dwellings; composting kitchen waste; and segregating garbage for proper disposal are far from revolutionary.

At the root of “sponginess” is the readiness of persons and institutions to respond appropriately to climate change.