Tools for the Anthropocene.

TOOLS: Living with water (Batayan Island, Philippines)

In 2013 an earthquake hit Bohol, Philippines, causing land subsidence to the islands of Batasan, Pangapasan, Ubay and Bilangbilangan. As a result the islands saw an abrupt rise in sea level equal to or greater than the IPCC's projections for sea rise by 2100 (Jamero, et al, 2017, 585). During high tides, the islands now experience partial or complete inundation flooding, bringing knee-high salt water into homes, schools, and streets (Jamero, 581). 

Filmed in June 2017, Walking on Water is a short documentary by Ma. Laurice Jamero of the perceptions of the islanders regarding the problems that they are facing and solutions they are developing. As Jamero argues in a series of articles, the islanders' response contradicts expert predictions of human behavior faced with sea rise and “offers a possible window onto the future” (Doyle, 2017). Most expert visions of the future imagine that sea level rise will lead to mass migration and evacuation. Following this expectation, governmental authorities on the Philippine mainland have responded to the flooding with the creation of a relocation program for residents and are considering the “possible dissolution” of places like Isla Batasan “as a basic administrative unit” (Jamero, Esteban, and Onuki, 2016, 49). But instead of confirming expert expectations that sea level rise will lead to evacuation and relation, none of the residents of these low-lying island communities have left (Jamero, et al, 2017). Instead, they are developing new practices for living on the islands. These include new typhoon evacuation practices, raising structures or floors of houses, stilts, piling coral rocks gathered from nearby reefs, and raising pathways (Jamero et al, 2017, 584). They have also elevated stores, churches, gardens, and roads, as well as their belongings, for example by extending the legs on their furniture (Jamero, et al, 2017).  “I really like it here in the island because it is peaceful. We can eat fresh fish and pick up seashells. We can sell them right away to buy rice… Our partners go fishing, and when they come home, we cook, we eat, and then we go to sleep. This is where we want to die! [Laughing] We really like this place,” explains one mother sitting in her house as water sloshes around her ankles.  “We are happy because our loved ones come home, and those who are away come back to visit us. We don’t stop swimming just because of tidal floods. We are not afraid of box jellyfish. We still just celebrate as much as we can” (Walking on Water).

This story raises many questions of the back loop: material and infrastructural ones, but also how living with water may become a matter of self-determination and autonomy. See: Anthropocene Back Loop, Chapter 4: Survival Skills and Floating Houses.

For more of Jamero's work on this case, see:

Blog story

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