• Govt urged to reinforce offshore greenbelts

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    LOS BAÑOS, Laguna: Environmentalists and the academe are proposing that government should reinforce the “offshore greenbelts” or propagate more mangrove forests and the involvement of local government officials on programs to combat climate change.

    Highly regarded environmentalists, including members of the academe, have joined hands in searching for new or alternative methods to mitigate the impact of the uninterrupted deterioration of the country’s environs, linking it to climate change.

    They strongly pushed for programs to rehabilitate and expand mangrove forests along shorelines primarily to cushion the adverse effects of storm surge.

    “Research has shown that mangroves can reduce the water levels in a storm surge by breaking up and slowing down the velocity of big waves,” said Dr. Celso Lantican, former dean of the College of Forestry and Natural Resources-UP Los Baños.

    Establishing mangroves or expanding existing ones play a significant role in coastal defense and disaster risk reduction, either alone or in combination with other risk reduction measures such as building concrete dikes or sea walls,” Lantican pointed out.

    Lantican recalled that in 1999, a super cyclone with a wind speed of 310 kilometers per hour hit the state of Orissa in Southeastern coast of India killing 10,000 people and rendering 7.5 million homeless. “Only one area near-by,” he said, “was not affected—Bitharnika—which was protected by the presence of dense stands of mangrove.”

    Lantican also cited a study conducted by a team of international scientists involving five villages in India, which were hit by an Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. “Three of the villages located behind the mangroves suffered no destruction while the two others which had no mangroves to protect them were seriously devastated,” Lantican said adding that similar approaches are now being done in Japan.

    Another senior professor of the UPLB-CFNR, Dr. Napoleon Vergara said, “Because of our 7,000 islands, we have a shoreline that is longer than that of the US. If even just half of these in high- risk shorelines had protective mangrove belts, they would have done a good job of protecting life and property in communities close to the sea.”

    “Mangrove species, like other trees,” Vergara explained, “grow relatively more slowly than other agricultural crops. It would perhaps take at least five years before they are large enough to serve as effective tree belts.” He cautioned that because the country has a poor track record in enforcing forest laws, mangroves, upon reaching that stage could easily be unlawfully cut, nevertheless.

    Japan, a highly developed nation has successfully conceptualized the propagation of tree belt forests, called Watari Greenbelt project in Watari, Miyagi Pre-fectrure shortly after it was devastated by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

    The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is at the frontline of programs and projects relative to the propagation of mangrove forests in the country. The budgetary requirement for this particular undertaking is not available although local DENR officials admitted that the projects have received substantial funding and research works on the areas supposed to be covered and prio-ritized have been identified.

    The Philippine government, through the DENR, has received international financial aids and other grants for this project, they added.

    Seemingly frustrated, Vergara described the government’s action on climate change as purely lip service. “There is even a Climate Change Commission but after a few “awareness creation” workshops and seminars, nothing else came out of it.”

    He also took note of the seemingly indifferent attitudes of the highly developed nations in giving their share in combating climate change and quoted UPLB Chancellor Rex Cruz, considered one of the foremost authorities on climate change in the country as saying, “The Philippines is a relatively small country that can contribute only minimally to climate change. However, the country is very vulnerable to climate change which arises due to actions of the large, economically developed nations.”

    On the involvement of the local government officials, Vergara’s disturbing comment was: “LGUs are closer to the ground and should have a firmer grasp of problems in the grassroots level, including the deleterious effects of climate change. But most LGUs are more interested in other actions remote from climate change. Note how the squatter problem has worsened in Manila because of the laxity in law enforcement by LGUs. In fact, ironically, it is they who abet squatting for political purposes.”

    Dr. Felino Lansigan, a senior professor at the UP Los Baños said “We have done a lot in educating them” but Lansigan regrets the very clear indifference of many local officials in understanding the effects of the climate change and their supposed vital role in carrying out programs through their constituents at the grassroots level.

    Lansigan recalled how most of the local government officials hurriedly left the conferences on climate change shortly after registration only to attend to their personal needs, he did not elaborate though.

    Lansigan is taking a lead role in molding top local leaders about the impact of climate change. Summits, regional conferences and meetings on the crucial issue were held from the provincial governors, vice governors, mayors down to barangay captain, he said. “but some are not interested in the issue.”

    He expressed optimism though that with the massive devastation brought about by Yolanda in eastern Visayas, “everybody would get involve in learning more about climate change and how to lessen its impact on the lives, properties and livelihood of the communities.”

    Scientists from Philippines-based Southeast Asian Regional Council for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (Searca) have also recognized the important role of the community through its project dubbed, “Building Capacity to Adapt to Climate Change in Southeast Asia.”

    The province of Laguna, considered highly vulnerable to climate change because of its low capacity to adapt to typhoons and floods has been a recipient of this project expected to end next month.

    Searca, headed by Dr. Gil Saguiguit Jr. has chosen the Philippines, Cambodia and Vietnam in the project involving research, planning and actions relative to the climate change adaptation.

    Already, 12 municipalities and 274 barangays in this province were covered and maps indicating their vulnerability to climate change have been completed. The towns included Los Baños, Bay, Calauan, Liliw, Magdalena, Majayjay, Pila, Rizal, Santa Cruz and Victoria.

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