"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Problems Beyond Garbage, Problems Beyond Curriculum

Devastating floods have recently submerged the National Capital Region and its nearby provinces in the Philippines. Photos of rising rivers and flooded streets abound the network. And on sites where comments are allowed to be posted, we see the familiar and popular blaming on garbage and squatters. Proper solid waste disposal is necessary for very important reasons, first and foremost, health. Relocation of squatter families away from danger zones is a must for obvious safety reasons. But will the floods not come if the garbage problem is solved?

In late December 2010, the northeast state of Australia, Queensland received heavy rains (200-400 mm):
Image downloaded from  http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2011/01/02/207273/hottest-year-biblical-australian-flooding/ 
The torrential rains resulted in flooding of a wide area (about 350,000 square miles - about three times the total land area of the Philippines).
Image downloaded from  http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2011/01/02/207273/hottest-year-biblical-australian-flooding/
New York had to deal with a similar situation when storm Irene drenched the northeast coast of the United States.

Flooding in Staten Island due to Hurricane Irene.
Image downloaded from  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Flooding_in_Staten_Island.ogv
There are no squatters and garbage in the above photos, yet these places got flooded. One thing Manila shares in common with these events in other countries is the following:
Image downloaded from  http://www.facebook.com/pages/Nababaha/170625946281424
And as in other places of the globe, a similar scenario follows the large amount of rain:
Houses submerged in flood in East Bank Road in Cainta, Rizal.
Image downloaded from 
What is disconcerting is that this widespread flooding in Metro Manila occurred not so long ago, in 2009, when storm Ondoy brought a comparable amount of rain to the area. Extreme weather is slowly becoming the norm. Adaptation measures are hence demanded by the new climate of the 21st century. Reihana Mohideen of Partido Lakas ng Masa said the following:
"This emerging pattern of increasingly extreme weather conditions has to be related to climate change, and those suffering the worst impact of it are the poor. The lack of adequate housing, drainage and canals, water catchments to collect water, hit the urban poor who are more than 80% of the population in Metro Manila, especially hard. This, combined with lack of information and awareness means the adaptation mechanisms of the population is extremely weak. 
We are doing what we can. but the only way that disasters on this scale can be mitigated is through the state, or government intervention. For example, today we couldn't reach some of the communities from where our organisers were appealing for assistance because of the floods. We need boats and helicopters to get out...."
What do these have to do with Philippine basic education? Schools in the Philippines face a similar dilemma. Weather, first of all, can dramatically effect basic education.
Ibaba Elementary School in Paete Laguna, Photo by Vice Mayor Rojilyn Q. Bagabaldo
Classes can not be held in flooded campuses. When roads are not passable, children cannot attend school. Widespread flooding puts a pause on all activities. And in some places, schools are used as evacuation centers. Should Philippine basic education likewise adapt to the changing climate? Most countries north of the equator begin their school year in September. The flooding caused by Ondoy in 2009 happened near the end of September. Moving the school opening in the Philippines to late September or early October means holding classes during the scorching months of March, April and May. Overcrowded classrooms coupled with poor ventilation are not only non conducive to learning, but are also unhealthy, but neither are flooded streets and classrooms. There is also the argument that weather conditions are still regional in the Philippines (for example, other parts of the country are in fact dry right now) so a solution at the national level is not really warranted.

When classes are interrupted by weather conditions, these have an effect on the rhythm and continuity of the academic program. One adaptation is to hold make-up classes. In Fairfax county of Virginia, classes sometimes stretch into summer when the number of snow days in winter prevents completion of the required number of school days. Make-up sessions also require logistics and sensitivity (or common sense). The Teachers' Dignity Coalition has recently cautioned school officials to be mindful in scheduling make-up sessions:

Study make-up classes sked, says teachers’ group

“DepEd officials must be very considerate. Teachers, students and their families were affected by the typhoon and requiring them to report to school the weekend following a week-long storm is an act of insensitivity” 
- Benjo Basas, National Chairperson, Teachers' Dignity Coalition
Similar to communities having to face serious problems beyond garbage, schools are challenged beyond the curriculum. And like the society at large, the challenges are not just coming from the climate.

80% of public schools have building defects


"When it rains, it really pours. That is, as far as the public schools are concerned.

Add to the country’s severe lack of classrooms the woes of structural defects found in 80 percent of public school buildings inspected by the Department of Education (DepEd) and Department of Public Works and Highways last year.

The random inspection found that eight of 10 of some 1,300 public schools suffer from structural defects that include cracks on walls, roofs and floors due to the building’s age...."
Add to this the poor working conditions and low salaries of public school teachers, and one can easily see that Philippine basic education truly faces problems beyond the curriculum. Adaptation requires correctly setting priorities.


Years ago, I had a casual conversation with Mutuk Bagabaldo, the vice mayor of Paete, Laguna. I was pointing out to him that the future of the town is in its uplands, that climate change will drastically change the landscape of the town. Of course, this puts the Sierra Madre into further exploitation. Thoughtful and careful planning is required. Then he visited us here in Virginia and saw how similar the terrain is in our counties is to the uplands of Paete.

In the United States, families often inquire about the quality of schools in an area before choosing their place of residence. Basic education factors in the price of houses in America. Responsible parents do consider the education of their children as well and sometimes, this is even more important than job opportunities. Decongesting the large urban centers of the Philippines perhaps require a strategy of building schools where people should be building their homes. Successful relocation of squatters from danger zones needs new sites that also provide quality schooling for their young. In a way, building schools is part of community planning. And in the long run, it maybe easier to build schools outside danger zones than attempting to mitigate circumstances.

The Philippine government and its people continue to ignore the warning from scientists. It is true that these disasters are partly man-made but the real causes are ignored. Instead, the people and the government put their hopes on flood-control schemes, constructing drainage pathways, and blaming the problem not on the main reasons.

Sea levels are rising, the land is sinking, and extreme weather is slowly becoming the norm. These are the real causes. Nature is simply reclaiming what belongs to nature. Here are excerpts from

Global sea-level rise is recognised, but flooding from anthropogenic land subsidence is ignored around northern Manila Bay, Philippines
Kelvin S. Rodolfo and Fernando P. Siringan
Disasters, 2006, 30(1): 118−139. © Overseas Development Institute, 2006
Published by Blackwell Publishing, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford, OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA

"Land subsidence resulting from excessive extraction of groundwater is particularly acute in East Asian countries. Some Philippine government sectors have begun to recognise that the sea-level rise of one to three millimetres per year due to global warming is a cause of worsening floods around Manila Bay, but are oblivious to, or ignore, the principal reason: excessive groundwater extraction is lowering the land surface by several centimetres to more than a decimetre per year. Such ignorance allows the government to treat flooding as a lesser problem that can be mitigated through large infrastructural projects that are both ineffective and vulnerable to corruption. Money would be better spent on preventing the subsidence by reducing groundwater pumping and moderating population growth and land use, but these approaches are politically and psychologically unacceptable. Even if groundwater use is greatly reduced and enlightened land-use practices are initiated, natural deltaic subsidence and global sea-level rise will continue to aggravate flooding, although at substantially lower rates... 
...Some people are reluctant to recognise that their own prodigal use of groundwater contributes to subsidence and the consequent flooding. Furthermore, the heavy seasonal rains leave the mistaken impression that the exceedingly abundant water must be recharging the ground below, no matter how much is withdrawn. Part of the difficulty lies in the fact that the process is hidden; it is much easier to blame flooding on visible causes such as fishponds and slums encroaching on estuaries, and the choking of drainages by water hyacinths and garbage. Some people have learned about the ramifications of their excessive groundwater use but, denied alternative sources, have resigned themselves to the worsening situation. Many acknowledge that free-flowing artesian wells must aggravate subsidence, but fear that temporarily closing a well might result in it drying up or make the water dirty. Others would like to take action, but do not know to whom they can turn. Unlike an earthquake or volcanic eruption, the worsening floods are gradual, and permit temporary, stopgap solutions. Optimism is rampant during the flood-free half of the year, when people want to forget the wet and discomfort... 
...Government officials with little technical background cannot judge the efficacy of flood-control projects. The extent to which basic science is ignored by engineers and consultants is exemplified by a DPWH dredging project, costing approximately USD 9 million, that is meant to alleviate flooding in the Pampanga municipalities of Guagua and Lubao (Nippon Koie Co., Inc., 2001; undated DPWH brochure circulated since 2003 entitled `Pinatubo Hazard Urgent Mitigation Project'). Of the 12 kilometres of channel to be deepened, the lower 10 kilometres is entirely below mean lower-low water and thus almost always below sea level. The configuration of the submarine channel floor is characterised in the plans as a `slope affected by tides'. There is no slope; besides, what governs channel flow is the slope of the water surface, not that of the bottom. Dredging below sea level can only facilitate the flow of incoming and ebbing seawater... 
...The engineering project that elicits our greatest concern is designed to protect KAMANAVA from both rainstorm and tidal flooding through the use of dikes, river walls, flood-control gates and pumps. Funded with a Japanese loan of five billion pesos, about USD 90 million, the project includes an 8.6-kilometre polder dike, composed only of earth, to enclose and protect the Malabon and Navotas areas that are already at or below mean sea level. A recurrence of the 1.93-metre spring tide, the highest on record, would leave the polder dike with only 10 centimetres of freeboard. In Manila Bay, wave set-up can raise tide levels by as much as 80%.
The dike's height of two metres was justified by an analysis that yielded storm-wave heights of only one metre. The modellers misread the bay depths charted in metres as given in fathoms (1.83 metres), and used wind speeds of only 40 kilometres per hour—those of a mere tropical depression (Citi Engineering Co., Ltd., 2001b, pp. C-17–C-18)... 
...To curtail subsidence, two measures must be implemented. First, it would be slowed by any replacement of groundwater with surface sources. The region is bordered by mountains on which small dams could be built to store water in surface and underground reservoirs. Families and small groups of farmers in developing countries use many simple rain harvesting techniques (Pearce, 2004) that merit attention, including building low ridges to impede run-off and encourage infiltration, and restoring wetlands to their natural hydrologic roles. At the family level in other places like Bermuda, the roof of every house is built to funnel all rainwater into cisterns.... 
...Second, if groundwater is to continue to be exploited, it must be regulated. A Water Code was promulgated decades ago (Water Code and the Implementing Rules and Regulations, 1979), but the requirements are ignored, beginning with the first one: drilling permits, which dictate that pump users must consider the possibility of ‘groundwater mining’—extracting more than nature recharges—and its other bad consequences besides land subsidence...."

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