Friday, January 05, 2007

On a More Serious Note...

I found a compelling story in the Philippine Star yesterday that forecast the Philippines' population to hit 88.1 million in 2007. This is of course thanks to the population growth rate of the country of 1.95 percent. While we are far from becoming the most populous country in the world - with China capturing over 20 percent of the total figure and 17 percent going to India - we are already at the twelfth slot. (I don't understand however why Wikipedia pegged our population at 90 million in their list of countries by population.) The country's population growth rate (1.8 percent according to Wikipedia) is ranked 80th in the world. This figure is definitely higher than the 1.14 global average.

Meanwhile, checking on the population density of the Philippines shows that ours is at 277 people per square kilometer. The highest among countries is led by city states such as Monaco, Macau, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

I also checked the population density of the major cities in the world and was surprised to see that the City of Manila has one of the highest figures in the world. First however, it should be noted that Manila is still surpassed by cities such as Tokyo, Seoul, and Mexico City as the most populous urban areas. These are the so-called metacities whose population exceed 20 million. The Greater Tokyo Area has a population estimated between 30 and 34 million.

Now going back to population density for any megacity (population of more than 10 million people), Manila has a population density of 41,014 people per square kilometer. This is what Wikipedia has to say about the population density of Manila:
With a population of 1,581,082 and a land area of 38.55 km², it has the highest population density of any major city in the world with 41,014 people/km² (with district 6 being the most dense with 68,266, followed by the first two districts (Tondo) with 64,936 and 64,710, respectively, and district 5 being the least dense with 19,235). A million more transients are added during daytime as students and workers come to the city.

Manila's population density dwarfs that of Paris (20,164 inhabitants per km²), Shanghai (16,364 people/km², with its most dense district of Nanshi's 56,785 density), Buenos Aires (2,179 people/km², with its most dense inner suburb Lanus' 10,444 density), Tokyo (10,087 people/km²), Mexico City (11,700 people/km²), and Istanbul (1,878 people/km², with its most dense district Fatih's 48,173 density).
As of 2000 figures, Metro Manila on the other hand is populated by 10 million people (or over 2 million households). This is a population density of 15,617 per square kilometer. I surmise that its population could reach as high as 12 million nowadays. I'm not sure if Wikipedia has a comparison of population density among the other major metropolitan areas in the world, but that would be interesting to see as well.

I'm always baffled at the huge number of people in Manila (or let's say the entire Metro Manila na lang). It's bloody crowded everywhere. Think of these millions of people competing for basic utilities, social services, and infrastructure. But probably the most apalling problem is the lack of housing. So slums sit side by side with high-rises. Outside the gated communities of the elite are the shantytowns. The wide income gap is immoral, I want to retch.

High population density per se is not totally bad. Some cities like Tokyo, Seoul, and Manhattan in New York manage to keep their cities running smothly for the general welfare despite such a huge number of people concentrated in such small space. Mumbai and Cairo, on the other hand, are way beyond chaotic brought about by lack of careful planning, which is no different from Manila.

Unchecked urbanization definitely has its costs. You can look at the clogged streets of the city and it's pretty obvious that the infrastructure is deficient. This is worsened by minimal (and relatively inefficient) mass transport system. The air is heavy with smog all the time. I'm always saddened by the sight of the dead Pasig River, which has become Metro Manila's massive septic tank. Added to the environmental costs are issues on high crime rate, joblessness, overcrowded classrooms, and maybe a thousand other mind-boggling constraints.

At certain times, when I'm stuck in traffic or I'm choking to the fumes of the vehicles, I wonder what exactly the LGUs in the metro are doing to better manage urbanization. Marikina (although I've been there only once when I was in college) seems to be doing great. But it's a tiny city that is more of the exception than the rule. The rest of the Metro is stuck in the quagmire of urban sprawl, bordering on the chaotic.

When I was in college I made a paper in Sociology 101 about rural-urban migration, particularly in Payatas in Quezon City. Migration is one of the major causes of the swelling of urban population. Among one of the major motivation for the migrants is definitely economic. I asked them if they still have plans of going back home to the province and was told that they'd rather stay in Manila. They live in the squalor of the slums all right but at least they have something to eat while they would probably die of hunger in the province. Checking the rural-urban economic disparity can be an effective way of addressing the problems of cities. So instead of directly investing in solving the problems of cities, the government and the private sector may want to look at investing in the rural areas to slow down the influx of migrants toward clogged Metro Manila.

On the one hand, LGUs need to be more active in working together to address the Metro's seeming endless woes. My college thesis was on the participation of Metro Manila LGUs in the rehabilitation of the Pasig River. That particular rehabilitation initiative is one good measure of the level of cooperation of the member cities of Metro Manila becuase the river is a resource that they share (at least for most Metro Manila cities). One of the harsh realities of the effort, however, is that there seems to be fragmented actions of LGUs in reviving the river. The Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission is concerned with the entire undertaking but is having a hard time getting the cooperation of the LGUs. Mainly the Commission is concerned with relocating the informal settlers (a euphemism for squatters) along the river's banks but the LGUs are pretty apprehensive about touching the squatters due to their voting powers.

Removing the squatters however is but only a part of a bigger problem. For one, the sewerage system of Metro Manila has to be totally overhauled to keep urban waste away from the river. Only about 12 percent of the sewage in Metro Manila goes through the proper sewerage system. Think where the rest of the 88 percent goes. Domestic waste (composed of untreated waste water) is the main pollutant of the river, in contrast to the wide belief that it is industrial waste that kill it. Moreover, huge sunken boats have accumulated at the bottom of the river. All of them need to be pulled out. The river can also be a good alternative for transportation but some of its parts have to be dredged to keep the water flowing, much less allow boats to ply it. One of the people we talked to at the Pasig Rehabilitation Commission said that it would take the concerted efforts of generations of Metro Manila residents to bring to life the Pasig River, but it's never going to happen in our lifetime.

The problem is indeed massive. In a lot of ways the Pasig River could stand for the current state of Metro Manila. It is easy to say that there is no hope for the city. Perhaps that is exactly the kind of attitude that people have been saying all along that's why the city continues to decay right before our eyes.

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