Engineer’s role for sustainable urbanization

by Audrey Zazel Espeso

For the past years, people have been more concerned with economic development leading to urbanization in order to meet the needs and high-demand of employment without proper planning to find a way not to compromise what really matters most, now climate change is knocking on our doors and wanting to dominate, but we should not allow that to happen.

Climate change, the real problem

Climate change is linked to increased heat, heavy and extreme typhoons, drought and insect outbreaks, and increased wildfires. These then result in water supplies declining, and reduction of agricultural crops.

Medical professionals have been alarming people regarding how climate change has affected our health. Air pollution kills an estimated 7 million people worldwide every year, according to the World Health Organization. Carbon emissions also increase the risk of heat strokes, respiratory problems and can be mind-damaging.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), “the world’s most vulnerable people—those with fewest resources and options—will suffer the most, for example: hotter temperatures and droughts will make corn, wheat, and other staple crop supplies less stable, leading to price spikes and food shortages. The roughly 800 million people currently living in extreme poverty will be most affected”.

They also emphasized that the severity of climate change is based on the amount of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases that are released into the atmosphere. Once there is a way to lessen this, it can still be acted up.

Impact of urbanization

“Urban growth feeds increased commercialisation and industrialisation which will increase the use of fossil fuels. An increase in the use of fossil fuels will add to global warming and contribute to climate change,” wrote Senior Fellow of ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute, Lee Poh Onn, in an email reply to The ASEAN Post.

A lot of rainforests are destroyed to cope up with the high-demand of establishments to be built without replacing them. Deforestation, pollution and resource degradation are main problems being faced when there’s urbanization and causing more vulnerability to climate change.


Greener blueprints

            Let’s start from the blueprints itself. Architects and engineers are responsible for the design plan of infrastructures as well as where they should be built based on different factors such as land use and resources. For a sustainable city, it should consider the land it occupies and if other species inhabit the area. Forest conservation is also important as this also serves as protection from the severe threats of flooding.

For Dr. Jihan Adil, the President of the Society of Environmental Engineers of the Philippines, it is vital to identify underlying impacts of the proposed infrastructures as well as design possible alternatives and mitigating measures to lessen its environmental impact. Similar to the saying “prevention is cure,” assessing the risks of a certain development is important and not just acting when the problem is already present.

The golden rule of replacement

“Every time trees are cut for road construction and other developments, there must be a replacement of ten times the trees that are cut,” Dr. Felisa A. Gomba, an environmental engineer from the Society of Environmental Engineers of the Philippines, pointed out. In this way, forests are still maintained and conserved.  After all, we do not own nature and we are just borrowing from it. “If you cut one tree, there must be ten trees replaced,” Dr. Gomba added.

Nature-friendly building blocks

            Cement is one of the largest global contributors for carbon dioxide emissions and it is widely used for construction purposes. Similarly, it also encompasses several health risks. Dr. Gomba identified steel as a replacement for cement, however, mining is needed to obtain this material, which adds to the problem. She also added that cement is the cheapest material, thus being often used.

            “For me, there is no such thing as replacement for cement. The one who are using more cement are those big companies,” she said. Therefore, minimization is a key to lessening its harm. “Bamboo is already a known material but it cannot sustain the kind of disasters the Philippines have,” she further explained. Although there are several green building materials such as HempCrete (concrete from hemp plant) and AshCrete (from fly ash), their feasibility to resist disasters such as floods and earthquakes in the country is still not known. While developing alternative materials, it is important for it to not contribute more to the ongoing environmental crisis, like the steel. These materials should be utilized immediately for building a sustainable as well as a safe and healthy city.

Utilizing green energy

            Instead of coal-powered electricity, cities must make use of energy from easily replenished sources such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat, depending on what’s the most suitable for the location. Ilocos Norte is known to harness wind power from windmills that supply electricity to Bangui, Burgos and Pagudpud City. Likewise, Tiwi City in Albay utilizes geothermal energy from its installed power plants. Moreover, solar energy is also a reliable energy source given our country’s geographical location.

            For cities in Metro Manila, Dr. Gomba said that utilizing renewable energy is still feasible, “A very good energy that can be used may be the resource recovery from the waste. The energy from the waste wherein Metro Manila is one of the highest-producing in terms of biowaste and other forms of waste.” Biomass, or waste from living organisms such as plants, can be used. The most common biomass in the country are in the agricultural sector which include rice hulls (the hard coverings from grains of rice), bagasse (residue from sugarcane), coconut shell husk and coconut coir (fibre extracted from the outer husk of coconut). Other forms of biomass in the country include forest residues, animal waste, agro-industrial waste, municipal solid waste and aquatic biomass. These wastes can be turned into bioenergy after several chemical processes.

Coping with natural disasters

            Adaptation is also a must since disasters are inevitable such as earthquakes, volcano eruptions and tsunamis. The development of sturdy and spacious recovery facilities and evacuation centers is also important. Flood control programs must also be present in barangays, such as installation of floodgates and de-clogging of waterways. To make these systems more sustainable, environmental engineers like Dr. Gomba and Dr. Adil analyse factors such as where the flood water will pass through, how it is going to be released and how it will reach the receiving body of water. They also design strategies so that runoff water will be retained in an area where there are no nearby receiving bodies of water without causing flood. Take porous parking areas as an example, where rainwater and runoff water can infiltrate or pass through the ground.

Hitting the roads with PUVs

            Vehicles emit greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. It is vital to improve the state of public transportation to encourage the public to ride these public utility vehicles (PUVs) more often, and will thus reduce carbon emission that results in air pollution. In addition, research about clean fuels for vehicles is widespread nowadays. However, it is not often utilized since it is unable to compete with large fuel companies. Therefore, policies must be developed on the usage of biofuels for vehicles.

Environment-conscious leaders

            As of today, there are only four green buildings in the country, three that are accredited by the Philippine Green Building Initiative namely: the Hyundai Logistics Center in Laguna, Climate Change Resilient Pilot House in Naga, and the National Museum of Natural History in Manila and the remaining one accredited by the Philippine Green Building Council which is the Laguna Lake Development Authority Building, the first green building government office in the country. These show that it is indeed possible to develop sustainable infrastructures, but, for now, it is voluntary. Despite already having environmental laws, there is still a need for a green building-related policy that will push big companies and local governments to develop green buildings. Thus, responsible leaders are  needed to play in this part to further the call from local governments or cities to a nationwide arena, from the local government city ordinances to the presidential decrees.     

            “[Improving] values and ways of life, [and] inspecting the environment, these are early contributions of the youth today,” Dr. Gomba said. We are never too young to be environment-conscious. By our little ways, when collectively done by fellow youth, we have already taken a big step towards a sustainable country.

“Support ecopreneurs, these businesses that have taken into consideration the environment as part of their business models,” Dr. Adil added. We should practice choosing products that favor the environment and utilize organic and non-toxic ingredients. Even if two products only differ by a peso or two, these simple choices and the money we put into it makes us a responsible consumer and an environment-wise person.

            We still have a long way to go towards a sustainable urbanization, but, as the two environmental engineers said, it is not impossible. The woke youth of today can be catalysts for change. The fire in our hearts is blazing with passion to demand climate justice. We are aware of what the higher-ups are doing and we will not turn a blind eye to it. ####

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This article was written and prepared by Audrey Zazel Espeso (Student-Journalist) and Mark Reniel Balolo (School Paper Adviser) from Pasay City National Science High School,  Division of  Pasay City  as a final output of DepEd-DRRMS and’s Green Beat Initiative: An Online Environmental Journalism Training.