Metro Manila · Living with the Floods
During rainy season, flooded streets are quite a normality in parts of Metro Manila. Here is what you should know about the floods, how to prepare, how to get around when streets become waterways, and where to live in the Megacity to stay dry.
Manila under Water
When Manila or the Philippines make it into the international news, it seems that most of the time it is because of another more or less devastating flood, caused by typhoons or just heavy rain. During rainy season (roughly from June till September) there are always a couple of days where the streets in many cities of Metro Manila get so flooded that schools and offices are kept closed (announced via radio and internet) and life virtually grinds to a halt.
Sadly, these floods often cause casualties, mainly in poor squatter areas that were erected in danger zones alongside riverbanks, lakes and sewers. Experts agree that the catastrophic consequences of the floods in Metro Manila are to a large extent man-made, caused by poor urban planning and badly maintained drainage systems.
In early August 2012, 80 percent of Manila was covered in water after heavy rain falls, in some parts nearly two meters deep. Nevertheless, this was quite an extreme case. And as long as you do not live in said danger zones, you will experience the floods as an annoyance that might complicate your routine for a couple of days, rather than as a life-threatening catastrophe.
When natural calamities hit the Philippines and you are a foreigner, you might want to let your folks at home know via Facebook or email that you are fine. When they watch the news, many of your friends will probably have no idea if you live in the affected area or at the other end of the country.
Transportation and Food Supply
Many Manileños still move from A to B as long as the water is only up to around one foot. Those days mean a little gold rush for the drivers of non-motorized pedicabs. In case one did not build up enough stocks beforehand, pedicabs are often the only vehicles that are still able to bring passengers more or less dry-shod to the next convenience store or fast food restaurant. A lot of restaurant chains keep delivering, but please do not call them if the weather is heavy and the water deep: delivery boys are often among the casualties when Metro Manila gets flooded.
Taxis also still drive in streets where the water is low enough, but they might not bring the passenger up to the door in a flooded neighborhood. In general, the price for transportation rises with the water, and a generous tip is appropriate.
Be aware that the NAIA Airport and surrounding areas are easily affected by floods. The terminals might be inaccessible and/or flights get cancelled. If you have a flight during a bad weather period, try to go to the airport extra early and bring everything you might need in the case that you get stranded for a day or two.
Where to Stay?
One thing to consider when looking for a place to stay in Metro Manila: Will I still be able to leave the house during rainy season? The pictured advertisement, found in Makati City, proudly states that the offered bedspace is “Guaranteed Flood-Free!!!” (bedspace might refer to any bed, bunk, floor space or – if lucky – a little room for an individual). The "Flood-Free"-feature of the flat is printed prominently in the center of the page, apparently it is even more important than a Wi-Fi connection, something most young Manileños can hardly survive without.
There are parts of Metro Manila that are very flood prone and others that are rarely affected. Geologists from UP Diliman provide a map where one can see the likeliness of floods during heavy rainfall in the Metropolitan Region. The HotSpots Malate, Roxas Boulevard, China Town, International & Alternative Makati, the restaurant strip of Jupiter Street, and parts of Alabang are very likely affected during rainy season. Salcedo and Legazpi Village as well as Fort Bonifacio and the area around Thomas Morato Avenue are among the less affected Hot Spots.
A list of Government agencies and official hotlines that provide further information during floods and other natural hazards can be found here.