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Monday's feature: Filipino slum dwellers use science to fight flooding

"During the months of August to September, we would experience seven or eight floods. During those times I cannot describe what I am feeling. I sometimes panic but I know I have to be strong for my children."

""Belan de Guzman, 52, lives in Banaba, San Mateo (Manila). With her family of six, she lives under a highway bridge, on top of a fault line and next to a narrow and bendy section of the Marikina River. The area is particularly vulnerable to flooding. Her house is built from old plywood and scraps of galvanized iron. It perches precariously on the lip of the riverbed and is regularly submerged during typhoon season.

Belan is also a trained River Monitor, thanks to support and training from Christian Aid partner Center for Disaster Preparedness. Metro Manila is home to more than 11 million people, including two million urban poor. Sitting on the West Valley Fault Line it is the most densely populated Metropolis on Earth, with the greatest concentration of vulnerable people, and regularly receives the brunt of South East Asia's annual typhoon season.

Belan is responsible for alerting the Banaba community when the river level becomes critical, encouraging them to evacuate when it's time. Her story is told in Big River Rising, an interactive documentary which is being launched by Christian Aid to mark this year's Earth Science Week (14 - 19 October). The interactive documentary demonstrates the importance of science in helping Filipino slum dwellers cope with flooding that claims innocent lives every year.

Shot during the dramatic August 2012 monsoon deluge, which flooded much of the Manila metropolis and forced more than 700,000 people to evacuate, the documentary follows Belan as she helps coordinate the evacuation while her shantytown home disappears beneath the floodwaters.

Scientists are working with Christian Aid and local organisations to train poor communities to understand their geological environment, the hazards they face and their local chaotic weather systems. This training enables them to develop life-saving early warning systems and community evacuation plans.

'If we really want poor people to understand future risks and have opportunities to thrive and not just survive, we have to collaborate with scientists' says Allan Vera, Senior Programme Officer at Christian Aid in the Pilippines. 'This will help protect them from future disasters and give them information to make the right decisions.'

Using photography, text, audio and video, Big River Rising explores how rapid and uncontrolled urban development, mountain deforestation, mining activities and global climatic changes have made Metro Manila and its poorest communities even more vulnerable to flooding. The web-doc also shows why communities choose to stay in the ‘danger zones’, refusing to leave their homes, despite the risk to their lives.

Institutions involved in the collaboration include the Manila Observatory, Marine Science Institute, and the National Institute of Geological Sciences. The work will help local campaigners demonstrate the vulnerability of slum dwellers with credible evidence, and lobby the Filipino government for lasting solutions.

Big River Rising, endorsed by the Geological Society, launches on 14 October at