Sunday, July 09, 2006

Troubled waters...

After writing this post yesterday, about my visit to an art exhibition focusing on the Pasig River, today I found this column from the SCMP

Troubled waters

Manila's mayor is trying to beautify the banks of the city's most important waterway, the Pasig River. But if he wants his efforts to amount to anything, he should really be doing something about the river itself.

Once upon a time - possibly during that age when humans, elves and dwarves lived in harmony - our poets and musicians competed to celebrate the Pasig's beauty. Now, their choice of descriptions would be rather limited. Specifically, it would be confined to that family of words that includes "sludge" and "cesspool".

From the mouth of polluted Manila Bay, the Pasig winds its polluted way 25km through six cities before finally connecting to the huge, polluted freshwater Lake Bai. Stop me when you've noticed the pattern.

The mayor wants to clear stretches of both embankments, creating spacious riverside areas for strolling. I'm just guessing, but I think that after taking one long look at - and a short whiff of - the river, most people will hasten to do their strolling elsewhere, such as inside a huge, air-conditioned mall.

Black and ominous, the Pasig is plied only by cargo barges and lighters. There are no pleasure craft - nobody delights in boating through fetid waters amid rubbish and the occasional corpse. Any swimmer would emerge from its waters darker and slimier than when he entered.

Many might find it hard to imagine that, in the Spanish period, the river - Ilog Pasig in Tagalog - used to be a stately stream, its water so pristine that people built bathhouses on its banks. Its tidal channels, or esteros, controlled flooding; people used the network to travel by boat to nearby provinces.

The well-heeled built elegant, tree-lined mansions along the river.

The Pasig system has been wrecked and polluted over the years by residents and scores of companies dumping untreated waste water and assorted rubbish directly into the water. Just a few months ago, I saw one estero clogged by an evil-looking armada of discarded, fast-food polystyrene boxes.

Every so often, the government announces a programme to clean up the river, with no visible effect. A project started in 1997 is supposed to make the river suitable for boating by 2008. Who knows, perhaps they're planning to work really, really quickly. I could be wrong.

The government has also said it's planning to resume a ferry service that it stopped years ago. That would be something to look forward to, as it would allow commuters to avoid the city's maddening traffic. Having taken the ferry, I can heartily recommend it to anyone who wants to see the river from an unusual perspective.

Just don't forget to bring a gas mask.


Blogger Scorpy said...

Aah yes, I remember the aptly named 'Perfume River' when I worked at Subic Bay for a short while. What a Pong!!!

8:12 pm  

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