Spread across 7,500 islands, with a population of more than 100 million, the Philippines is prone to severe geological and hydrometeorological hazards. Sitting astride the typhoon belt, between 1990 and 2008, a total of 158 destructive typhoons resulted in 13,491 deaths across the Philippines. It has the 5th largest coastline in the world (approximately 36,289 km) making it very susceptible to climate change threats such as rising seawater levels.
The Philippines is subject to a variety of hazards, not all of them climate-related including earthquakes. Even though agriculture is not the dominant mode of income, such vulnerabilities severely impact rural communities as their livelihoods are not diversified and they rely mostly on their produce. From 1970-2009, the direct cost of damages related to disasters ranged from Php 5-15 billion ($97 million – $293 million), equivalent to more than 0.5% of GDP, excluding secondary and indirect damages. In this same period, flooding impacted nearly 27.6 million of the poorest and marginalized Filipinos and disasters triggered by hazards claim almost 1000 lives. Historically, Typhoons alone are estimated to cause some Php 2,428m ($47 million) damage every year, equivalent to 0.6% of GNP (ADB, 1994). Earthquakes in the Philippines, also generate tsunamis, with about 28 tsunamis reported until 1976, killing more than 3,782 people and causing P 625m ($12 million) in damages.
The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report states that global mean sea levels are likely to increase between 26 centimeters (cm) and 82 cm by the end of the 21st century. Changes in marine life would eventually render islands uninhabitable due to permanent inundation and land loss, causing mass intra-migration to higher lands. Since the 2013 earthquake, this phenomenon is already happening in the Philippines. Islands in the Cebu strait have flooded to a depth of up to 43cm at high tide and remain inundated with water for longer periods of time. Estimates based on 2008 show that the area affected by flood in Metro Manila will increase by 42% in 2050 climate change scenarios. This will affect about 2.5 million population and communities in low lying areas would be at high risk.
Housing and Institutional Capacity
Due to the Philippines’ geographic composition, the immediate threats to slum settlements are by flooding. Philippines ‘ slum population is amongst the largest in Asian countries and is increasing at an annual rate of 3.5% compared to its population growth rate of 2.3% (2006). It is estimated that by 2050, Metro Manila alone will have a slum population of over 9 million. Knowing what we do about the country’s geographical constraints, implementing any form of tenure security is particularly challenging. Living conditions of the poor in urban areas of the Philippines show that it is highly congested with one person occupying an average area of 4 sq. mt.
Public expenditure on housing in the Philippines is one of the lowest in Asia, where less than 0.1 percent of GDP on average is spent on housing. This has created a considerable backlog since poor compliance in ensuring limited funds are being used for their intended purpose along with the multiplicity of institutions has only made the institutional arrangement and housing delivery more complicated. The Department of Housing and Urban Development, formed to streamline the Philippine’s highly decentralized governance structure aims to build resilient and sustainable housing for all, a feat that the country’s erstwhile 14 departments on housing have not been able to achieve so far.
Weak institutional capacities have significantly reduced the on-ground impact of several housing & resettlement, climate change adaptation and disaster risk mitigation plans. The decentralized government structure in the Philippines has not been supported with adequate capacity building of Local Government Units (LGU) to carry out their assigned tasks. LGUs are meant to have housing and disaster cells at every level but several of them do not exist. This has made formulating Comprehensive Land Use Plans and identifying sites for resettling Informal Settler Families (ISFs) even more difficult. Additionally, not all LGUs are keen on resettling ISFs within their city limits or undertaking in-situ rehabilitation schemes. As a result, distant relocation sites that are away from employment opportunities suffer from low-occupancy rates as beneficiaries are forced to illegally sell and resort to squatting again.
Resilience Based Framework
In the absence of secure tenure rights, protected by law, codified through land-use plans or formalized rental or contractual agreements, informal user rights given to ISFs can be very easily overlooked or ignored entirely. Even with its efforts in resettlement, there is no mandate enforcing new constructions to adopt resilient materials and construction guidelines. Several land acquisition strategies in place to get land for low-income housing, have met with limited success, due to bureaucratic and administrative delays and rising land costs.
An urban resilience-based framework, which would approach housing, infrastructure, and the economy through a climate change and disaster risk reduction lens is glaringly absent. While the policy environment to do this exists, political support and the willingness to have difficult conversations and assigning specific tasks within DHUD is one way to begin unpacking the issue.