One of the frustrations of living in catastrophic Philippines is the lack of urban planning.   As a country along the typhoon’s way, one would assume that we’d learn from our mistakes and go from there.  But its hard to pick up the pieces especially when urban areas continue to grow at an escalating rate everyday.  With the absence of livelihood in the rural areas, and the continuing growth in Manila, alot of people fled their small rural areas with the hopes of finding better opportunities in the cities.

Overcrowding, squatting and poor urban planning contributes to the floods and destructions of homes every typhoon season.  Philippines would you believe get an average of 6-7 tropical cyclones every year.  Ketsana last year has caused so much destruction in the north which according to Huffington Post, “430,000 people were affected by storm, including some 115,000 people who were brought to about 200 schools, churches and other evacuation shelters.”  Imagine 1 months worth of rain in just 12 hours.

Poor urban planning has long been blamed for the floods and the cause of traffic in the country.  But how do you fix  decades of mistakes?  Is it possible at all to start all over again?  During my travels to Papua New Guinea and Australia, I came to realize years ago how badly our houses here are built.  Its crazy to see European style houses sprouting here and there including the countless of low lying homes by money sucking low cost housing in the urban areas.  These subdivisions does not have proper drainage and sewerage systems that during typhoon season, these were one of the places affected by floods every year.

In Papua New Guinea, houses are built on stilts especially those near the water as some parts of PNG has tasted tsunamis every year.  My husband, continue to groan when he sees our houses here have small roofs, huge bay windows and made of low class cements and poor materials.  Everytime it floods, houses are destroyed over and over again.  Damage of properties is so bad that people struggle to start anew.  Houses in low lying areas built so close to the ground succumbs to  flood water and rain.  It is a mystery why our houses here were never built on stilts.  I have seen houses in rural Batangas on stilts and they make sense. Like look at that house (green-inset), that house was our house in PNG.  Although we lived in the mountains, that house was made to adapt to the climate in the mountains.  To those who has been there, it can become freezing cold during the night, but so humid during the day.  The windows are huge to allow wind to go through and through the walls.  When it rains, it is important to leave the windows open as well.  Although its not made of indigenous materials, the house was designed essentially to adapt to the climate in PNG– Sepik in particular.

The damages caused by the effects of climate change– extreme heat and extreme rains, continue to prove how poor our country was when it comes to disaster preparedness.  Poorly structured homes, poorly planned neighborhoods, ineffective government services are just among the contributing factors to our inability to prepare for catastrophe.

It continues to amaze me how simple solutions can mitigate the effects of climate change.  For us in the Philippines, there are solutions ofcourse that us locals can implement without waiting for the government “solutions” which often are curtailed by politics and dirty lobbying.

My Shelter Foundation is spear-headed by social entrepreneur and architect Illac Diaz said,

“As we go more into the seasons of typhoons, the seemingly evitable will become obviously urgent..”

Image from

My Shelter Foundation, through Extend Yourself hopes to build more schools using sustainable materials and innovative architectural design.  I am amazed with the projects previously launched by Design against The Elements (DaTE) as it shows how great architectural minds in the country and abroad proposed successfully their ideas on innovative and sustainable building.   Projects like this needed funding as you all know, but with some funding from multi-lateral financial institutions, and private corporations, the reliance of projects such as this is indeed possible.

Me as a blogger, I am beginning to believe that as we begin to raise consciousness and more information campaigns using social media, we can help as much by supporting groups like My Shelter Foundation make their projects a reality.  With collective and collaborative efforts there is a chance that when catastrophe strikes we can at least be confident that when the storm has passed, one of the main pillars of our communities — the schools are safe and unharmed and ready to welcome our children back.

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