5 Uncomfortable Truths About Living in Manila

Student Work
by Rina Diane Nov 21, 2015

1. Poverty is a very real thing in Manila, even though the city has tried to cover it up.

According to the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, there were 2.8 million informal settlers (roughly 556,526 families) around Metro Manila in 2010. Some 104,000 families were residing in areas such as garbage dumps, railroad tracks, rivers, creeks and canals. These areas were identified as danger zones by the Department of Interior and Local Government. There are now 1.5 million informal settlers across the Philippines, of which 40% are in Metro Manila.

The striking number of informal settlers highlights the lack of available housing in the city. Moreover, it brings to light the poverty that exists amid urbanization.

In 2012, the government constructed a temporary wall along the stretch of road from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport to the Philippine International Convention Center where the annual Asian Development Bank meeting was held. The wall was built to cover a slum community.

On the January 2015 visit of Pope Francis to the Philippines, the Department of Social Welfare and Development admitted to taking 100 homeless families from the streets of Roxas Boulevard along Manila Bay where Pope Francis passed through several times during his visit. The families were taken to a resort in Batangas, a few hours’ drive from Manila.

2. Manila has the worst traffic on earth.

According to the recent Global Driver Satisfaction Index by Waze, a community-based traffic and navigation app, Manila was reported to have the worst traffic in the world. In 2012, this resulted in a PHP 2.4 billion (about $52 million) loss every day. Combine that with the fact that Manila also has a longer commute time than any other major city, estimated at 45.5 minutes, and you get a lot of wasted time that could have been used on work, making an additional income or spending time with family. If Manila doesn’t take action on its worsening traffic condition, this loss is predicted to increase to PHP 6 billion (about $131 million) by 2030.

3. And 85% of Manila’s air pollution comes from our traffic.

As of April 2015, the Environmental Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources noted that the air pollutant concentration in Manila reached 130 micrograms per normal cubic meter (µg/Ncm) in terms of total suspended particulates. The maximum safe level of air pollutant concentration is 90 µg/Ncm.

Records show that 85% of Manila’s air pollution comes from mobile sources — meaning vehicles on the road, which we have a lot of. There were close to 2.5 million registered motor vehicles in Manila in 2014.

Commuters stuck in road traffic and those enduring long lines in order to catch a ride on public transport are most vulnerable to these vehicle air pollutants. A 2010 study by the American Heart Association stated that short-term exposure to air pollution increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases, especially in the elderly and those with preexisting medical conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. Meanwhile, long-term exposure can reduce life expectancy within a population by around several months to a few years.

4. Manila is the second ‘riskiest’ city in the world.

According to the 2014 Mind the Risk study conducted by Swiss Re, a Switzerland-based reinsurance firm, Manila is second among 616 major metropolitan areas in terms of risk exposure to five perils: storm, storm surge, river flood, earthquake and tsunami. These aggregated perils could potentially affect 34.6 million residents in Manila and could lose the city 1.95 working days relative to the Philippine economy.

Manila is no stranger to the effects of storms and flooding. The city was one of the most affected areas in terms of flooding when Tropical Storm Ondoy (international name Ketsana), one of the worst natural disasters in the Philippines, brought heavy rains in 2009. In a 2013 study by Project NOAH (Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards) of the Department of Science and Technology, Manila ranked 22nd in a list of 30 localities most vulnerable to a storm surge on the scale of Typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan).

Manila was also part of the metrowide shake drill conducted in July 2015. This was done to promote awareness and preparation in the event of a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that may hit the metro due to the West Valley Fault movement.

5. Manila is the second most densely populated city in East Asia yet the city cannot support its own rapid growth.

Based on the World Bank report entitled “East Asia’s Changing Urban Landscape: Measuring a Decade of Spatial Growth” released on January 2015, the Manila urban area is one of East Asia’s megacities, having ten million or more inhabitants. In 2010, Manila had 56% of the urban land in the Philippines and more than 70% of the country’s urban population. Its population density increased from 11,900 people per square kilometer to almost 13,000 between 2000 and 2010. However, Manila’s urban land development only grew from about 1,000 square kilometers to 1,300 square kilometers from 2000 to 2010, a growth of 2.2% per year. The city of Manila is the densest local unit with almost 48,000 people per square kilometer. Less than 3% of urban land is in the city of Manila but more than 10% of the overall Philippine population resides there.

These numbers demonstrate Manila’s lack of infrastructure to support its continuous growth. Bureaucracy adds to the difficulty of urban development with several authorities involved in decision making. The World Bank also noted that urban development must be inclusive for it to be effective.

Discover Matador