'400,000 squatters key to fixing floods'

Agence France- Presse

Posted at Oct 08 2009 12:42 PM | Updated as of Oct 08 2009 08:42 PM

MANILA - At least 400,000 squatters blocking key drainage channels of a giant lake on the edge of the Philippine capital need to be uprooted to fix Manila's flooding crisis, a government official said Thursday.

The squatters are among one million people living on the shorelines of Laguna de Bay that will be flooded for up to five months unless drastic action is taken, Laguna Lake Development Authority chief Edgardo Manda told AFP.

"I have made a strong recommendation to remove these people from the danger zones and not allow them to go back," Manda said of the 400,000 squatters that are living mostly on what was once marshy wetlands.

"The authorities would probably need to erect barricades and station sentries in these areas."

The dramatic recommendation comes as large parts of eastern Manila remain flooded 12 days after Tropical Storm Ketsana dumped the heaviest rains in more than four decades on the city, killing 295 people.

Manda and other officials have acknowledged that chaotic urban planning, or no planning at all, exacerbated the crisis, particularly around Laguna where shantytowns, factories and housing developments have overtaken farms.

However, Manda said he realised removing squatters from the lake would be a "political decision" that may not sit well with politicians so close to national elections in May next year.

In those polls, local executives as well as a new president are chosen.

About 300,000 of the squatters are living in and around an illegal open garbage dump on wetlands that block two connecting rivers which are meant to channel excess water from the lake into Manila Bay to the west.

"The channel is constricted," Manda said, adding the best remedy for the drainage problems was to clear the squatters and garbage from the wetlands.

About 100,000 other squatters live in houses on stilts on the lakeshore to the south, he added.

Aside from the one million people living near the immediate shoreline, which is likely to remain flooded for many months, at least one million others live in adjacent districts of eastern Manila that are also still under water.