By Federico Segarra
Manila, Aug 24 (EFE).- Hundreds of fishermen and their families who have settled in precarious floating houses north of Manila Bay suffer an environmental and urban siege due to the rise in sea level, the construction of an airport and the tons of drifting garbage that choke their livelihood.
Vincent Omolida, 41, and his wife, Melissa Salvación, 37, live in the Sitio Pariahan settlement, about 30 kilometers north of Manila. Four years ago, before the relentless rise of the waters, they had to abandon their house and build a new home a few hundred meters further back in a row of dilapidated and windowless shacks.
It was unprotected from the onslaught of typhoons and storms.
“We have raised the walls of the house several times in recent years, and even so the water enters when there are storms,” Melissa told EFE while pointing at the patched walls of her house, in this new settlement they call “Salvation.”
In Manila Bay, sea levels are rising four times faster than the global average as the city sinks due to massive pumping of groundwater from years of frenetic urban development, according to Greenpeace data released this year.
The mangroves that regulated the tides and erected a natural barrier to these coastal towns against storms – increasingly frequent and intense – have disappeared due to the construction of an international airport in the same area of Bulacan, where these neighborhoods are located.
“There are areas in Manila Bay where the land sinks about 10 centimeters a year. In a decade, 86 percent of the population of Metro Manila (some 13 million inhabitants) may be affected,” said Rhea Jane, of the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities.
The day is gray and lightning can be seen flashing through the black clouds to the east of the bay, while the residents of this makeshift settlement walk along the only bamboo path that connects the houses to go to church, where they celebrate a colorful mass with chants and prayers.
The cheerful scene contrasts with the fetid odor from a mountain of plastic and waste piled up a few meters from the church, and illustrates the other great front that the inhabitants of Salvation are fighting against: the garbage in the sea that surrounds their houses.
Vincent has lived and fished in these waters since he was little. But he said the amount of plastic and waste he finds in the networks has grown exponentially in the last 30 years.
The residents of Salvation rescue the garbage that arrives at the doors of their stops, pile it up, and sell it for 10 pesos per kilo (about $ 0.18.)
“No one from the government has explained to us why the waters rise, or where the plastic comes from,” said Vincent, adding that “the only contaminated fish are those that have already swallowed the garbage,” visible when they open the fish.
Vincent and Melissa show with their boat their old house and that of their relatives in Sitio Pariahan, now converted into a ghostly neighborhood with houses in ruins that float in the middle of the murky waters of the bay.
But some neighbors endure stoically in these shacks and refuse to leave until they receive compensation from the San Miguel construction company, which is carrying out the airport works.
The neighbors denounce anonymously that it is this construction company that has accelerated the rise of the sea at this point in the bay, since they have cut down the mangroves that protected them from the storms.
“Mangroves are key to keeping the ecosystem of coastal areas in the tropics in harmony, they regulate the tides and purify the water,” Jane said. EFE