Legacy Islands on Water

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Ma. Lourdes N. Tiquia

IN Asia alone, there are 17 reclamation projects of note, such as: the coastlines of Mumbai, India; the coastlines of Mainland China, Hong Kong, North Korea and South Korea; the inland lowlands of the Yangtze Valley, China, including Shanghai and Wuhan; the coastline of Karachi, Pakistan; part of Hamad International Airport; the entire island of The Pearl-Qatar situated in West Bay (Doha) Qatar; Hailou Bay, Hainan Province, China as well as the west side of Haitian Island and Haikou City are all being extended; Cotai Strip in Macau; Nagoya Centrist Airport, Japan; Incheon International Airport, South Korea; Beirut Central District, Lebanon; and Europe, Africa and the Americas have their share of reclamation projects, too.

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The Philippines has 7,641 islands and this number could still grow through land reclamation. What reclamation? The so-called enemy of environmentalists, right? But hold it and let’s see what kind of reclamation this is, considering we have lessons learned from the reclamation of Manila Bay in the past.

The Philippine Reclamation Authority (then known as the Philippine Estate Authority per EO 380 as of 2004) is set to build what is known as Legacy Islands on Water. Conscious of the issues attached to reclamation, the PRA has adopted three strategies: 1) purposive reclamation; 2) protective reclamation and 3) capacity development.

Purposive reclamation refers to Legacy Island on Water, or LIoW, that is “liveable, resilient, safe, sustainable, green, generative, pro-people, future-proofed and innovative, and a smart community.” On LIoWs and related developments, “the integration or combination of economic zones, smart community infrastructure, mangroves, flora and fauna eco-systems, renewable energy facilities, coastal protection structures, green landscapes and blue water, socialized housing units, water collection systems, waste management methodologies, public access networks, and mixed-used development are critical.”

Protective reclamation refers to an integrated coastal defense development based on the model funded by the Kingdom of the Netherlands for the “Coastal Protection Strategy for the City of Tacloban and Municipality of Palo, Leyte.” The PRA will seek assistance from donor and multi-lateral agencies, foreign governments and partner organizations to finance and conduct other studies for storm surge and coastal flooding-prone areas identified in the study. Preliminary inspection and assessment of the cities of Butuan, Bislig and Surigao have been conducted.

Organizationally, PRA Learning Ecology has been established. Capacity development programs, at the professional and personal levels, have been identified. If PRA has a green army, reclamation won’t be a zero-sum game.

Imagine a Philippines with additional destinations, self-contained agricultural estates, dairy farms, logistic hubs, tree farm islands; renewal energy model islands that can harness energy for use in the island and as inputs to grid in the main islands, etc. The possibilities are limitless. What if the areas that are part of our territory where there were land bridges before are reclaimed? Think about the possibilities but yes, as in other forms of development, there are issues on reclamation. There are advantages and disadvantages of land reclamation and knowing these is a sure way of avoiding and working around the issues.

Land reclamation means “more land has been made available for development. More buildings and infrastructure can be built, and also for other reasons.” The ability to connect the islands by ports, bridges, rails and airstrips are made easier. It may not be a concrete jungle but eco-tourism zones and industrial estates or model smart cities can be the blueprints. They can be the gems of federalism because the legacy islands will become the magnets of growth.

The disadvantages are aplenty as documented from various experiences: “Much greenery has been removed in order for the land needed. Land reclamation can be damaging to corals and marine life. Corals are usually moved to another place when land is to be reclaimed. The corals might not be able to survive in that certain habitat, and thus die out. In some countries, where the project is large-scale, they do not even bother to re-plant the corals elsewhere, instead just reclaim the land on their habitat, causing them to die out immediately. Marine life, such as fishes, might not have enough food after the underwater plantations are destroyed due to reclamation of land. This applies to the food chain. The waters might also be polluted from the soil used to reclaim land, causing the fishes to die and blocking out sunlight, depriving the underwater plants of growth. Marine habitats are also destroyed, as mentioned earlier; therefore, the marine creatures would be forced to move to another new habitat.” Can we mitigate the disadvantages? Manila Bay was reclaimed in the 1970s-1980s. The second phase took place in the 1990s. We learned from such plans and with new technology can do better reclamation today.

As in mining, the rigid environmental impact assessments (EIAs) should be able to assess environmental issues with regard to land reclamation projects. If the project is an environmentally critical project or is in an environmentally critical area, EIA is mandatory. EIAs normally consider issues such as impacts on species and habitats, other human uses (e.g. fisheries, navigation, recreation, cable and pipeline laying), international and national marine protected areas, water quality and coastal processes (sediment transport, erosion, sedimentation, hydrodynamics). The results of an EIA may affect the design/shape of the land reclamation, the public consultations and the permit conditions.

Of essence in planning for LIoW is a citizens’ monitoring feedback mechanism that encourages the participation of citizens in governance. Social acceptability of high impact projects is critical and getting the communities involved in the process will determine success or failure of a project.

Building a nation is not easy. It has never been been easy. But taking the first step and building a common platform to move makes the bottlenecks bearable. It will be hard, but let’s find the common ground.

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