OVERPOPULATION IN MANILA

Philippines

2006

Too many people. Too little space.

The Philippines has one of the fastest growing populations in Southeast Asia. From having fifty million inhabitants in 1980, the Philippines today is home to around ninty million people with 11 million living in Manila only. Living place is becoming increasingly satuarated. This overcrowding is causing a range of problems such as lack of education, lack of healthcare, unemployment and general poverty. Photojournalist Mads Nisssen visited some of these overcrowded areas in Manila and poses the question how will it be in thirty years time when the Philippine population is expected to have doubled to over 180 million inhabitants.

With every passing second, there are more and more of us. By the year 2050, the global population is expected to pass nine billion people, a significant increase from the six-and-a-half billion today. In the Philippines, they are already running out of space. The capital of Manila is one of the largest and most densely populated cities in the world.

In a corner of the Northern cemetery, Venanjo Sison is standing on top of a coffin and taking a bath. Like many other of Manila’s residents, he is forced to live wherever he can. His home is made of wooden planks and scrap pieces of plastic. The Philippine capital is one of the most overpopulated places on earth. There are few other areas where so many people live so closely together: On average there are 41,282 people per square kilometre, but in some slum regions there are as many as 88,000 people living per square kilometre.

The worlds overpopulation is a growing and complex problem. But for the residents of Manila the result is quite simple. They are running out of space. Families live in home-made shacks built in cemeteries, or between railroad tracks or under bridges.  They live wherever they can find some space. Even the city’s toxic garbage dumps are home to people who eat, sleep and live surrounded by rotting trash. With so many residents, the city’s resources are strained to the limit. Large parts of Manila’s 11 million residents lack clean drinking water, work, and access to healthcare and education.

The Santo Niño slums are home to thousands of these families. Among them are Bhong Esponilla, 33, and his wife, Charito Esponilla, 33, and their seven children. All of them live together in a tiny four-by-four meter home built with scrap pieces of wood and stone and a large wax tablecloth. There is just enough room for the entire family to lie down and sleep at night.

According to the United Nations development program UNDP, overpopulation and poverty often go hand-in-hand. The poorest families are the ones who have the most children and subsequently have to support more people with fewer resources. Before they even reach adolescence, the children are doomed to a life of hereditary poverty.

Charito Esponilla’s dream is to give her children an education. That is what his neighbour, with only two children has done. But the Esponilla family can’t afford to send their children to school. As it is, they have a hard time making ends meet and when the family runs out of money, they are forced to live on the charity of neighbours.

”Our neighbours are so sweet,” explains Charito Esponilla, while she washes children’s clothes in three large buckets of laundry. ”Sometimes they give us a little rice, but a lot of the time they are short on food just like us. Then we have no other choice but to go hungry to bed. On those nights, it’s very hard to fall asleep. The children cry and wake me all night long. But I don’t have anything to give them. What can I do?”

Even though Charito Esponilla loves her seven children, she doesn’t want any more. Like most other Filipinos she doesn’t use contraceptives, and never has. She has considered the birth-control pill, but she doesn’t know much about them and is afraid of what they might do to her body.

According to Dr. Emily Bernardo, a lack of information is one of the leading causes of overpopulation in the Philippines. Bernardo is the leader of a family-planning unit at the public José Fabella Hospital in Manila.

”The poorest social groups are incredibly ignorant. They don’t even know how a woman becomes pregnant. Some of them believe they are infertile while they are still breast-feeding their new-borns and others have never even heard of prevention or contraceptives. Others still are terrified of unknown side effects. That’s why women keep having more children, even though they neither want to nor have the economic means to provide for them.”

But powerful forces are working against Dr. Emily Bernardo and the centre for family planning. The Catholic Church, the most dominant religion in the country, is against abortion, sterilisation and all other forms of contraception. The church is also an opponent of sexual education. Instead, the local priests encourage women to try and guess their egg cycle in order to prevent pregnancy. As a devoutly religious country, the church has considerable influence on government policy and has succeeded in a reduction of government campaigns on pregnancy-prevention and sexual education.

The increasing religious and political pressure has a direct effect on Dr. Emily Bernardo’s work. ”The responsibility for slowing overpopulation has been moved from the government to the local municipalities, and as a result there is no longer a national plan for combating this problem. We are the last public hospital in Manila that still offers counselling in prevention and family planning. All other public hospitals have had their programs cut by the devoutly religious mayor.”