11/17/2009, 00.00
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Government to prevent flooding by demolishing Manila shantytowns, 400,000 left homeless

by Santosh Digal
For the authorities, informal settlements are to blame for flooding in the capital. Over the next few months, residents will be relocated to new areas on the outskirts of Manila without transport links to the centre. Economically crucial middle class residents are also being affected by the relocation. “Don’t demolish the housing of the poor without an adequate relocation plan,” bishops say. “The real problem is joblessness.”
Manila (AsiaNews) – More than 400,000 people living in the Laguna Lake (Manila) informal settlement could be without a roof over their head if the government gets its way. In order to avoid future flooding, the authorities are planning to demolish all unauthorised houses in the area without providing for an alternative solution that meets the needs of the residents.

“Don’t demolish the homes of the poor without an adequate relocation plan,” Card Gaudenzio Rosales, archbishop of Manila, said in a pastoral letter. “Let us not blame the poor in the waterways for the flooding of our cities.  Let us look beyond: the unabated logging in the Sierra Madre and Mount Banahaw, mining ventures in our mountains, haphazard collection and unplanned disposal of our garbage, irresponsible city planning and development of subdivisions, just to name a few.”

“In re-settling the poor and rehabilitating our cities priority should be given to the employment of the people.  Informal settlers have grown in number because of lack of employment possibilities in places outside Metro Manila. The ‘squatting’ problem is not primarily a problem of housing; it is a problem of employment,” the archbishop said. Thousands of people are resisting relocation to safer sites outside the city because their livelihood is in the city; they cannot earn a living in far-away relocation areas.

Manila has 11.5 million residents. More than 4 million live in shanties, under bridges, in creeks, dumpsites and slums; cling to their squatter sites even in danger areas. In 2002, the government set aside some hectares of land to build new neighbourhoods on Manila’s outskirts, about 100 kilometres from the centre of the capital. However, there are no roads into the city and no jobs in such areas. Hence, people refuse to abandon their makeshift shacks in garbage dumps.

Recent flooding caused by Typhoons Ketsana and Parma have made the problem worse. According to the authorities, illegal constructions have prevented normal water drainage, flooding about 80 per cent of the urban area. About 500 people have been killed and 1.3 million people displaced.  This has pushed the government to accelerate demolish and forced removal of people.

“Without them [informal settlers], the city cannot function,” Card Rosales said. “It is meaningless to give the poor and many in the middle class worthless land whilst reserving the best for upscale shopping centres and golf courses.”

For the prelate, land must be subdivided in a new way, taking into account the needs of the poorest people. For this reason, the government must tax unproductive properties, which are often the subject of speculation, and ban industrial development in residential areas.

“Only when the needs of the least [protected] are addressed will our society achieve true and lasting development,” he added.

For years, the Church has been concerned about the informal settlement issue. Caritas and other Catholic organisations have been investing in low cost housing, paying close attention to the employment needs of the population.

So far about a thousand housing units have been built (see Santosh Digal, “New lands and spiritual formation for the poor in Manila,” in AsiaNews, 6 November 2009).

Yesterday, the government announced it was setting aside about 1,500 hectares of government land to build housing for public servants and evicted waterway settlers.

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