LOOSELY defined, ecosystems are the physical areas on our planet earth that affect or influence the lives of humans. These are: the 1) mountains and forests; 2) the croplands; 3) the human settlements (urban and rural areas where people reside); 4) the swamps or wetlands where the sea or ocean meet the fresh water flowing down from the mountains at the coastlines; and 5) the coral reef offshore which abounds with marine life.
Pristine or virgin forests thrive on the slopes of hills and mountains which provides water for human uses and to water the croplands where food crops and livestocks for mankind and all forms of wild animals are found. The swamps serve as the living areas of reptiles and birds where mangroves grow. These trees with roots perpetually under water provide the windbreakers of, and protect people from destruction by, typhoons or hurricanes. The swamps also are the breeding grounds for clams, crabs, shrimps, eels, milkfish.
The coral reefs are where fish that humans eat (tuna, sardines, groupers, carps, etc) breed and grow. It is the richest resource for people’s food (and medicinal materials) considered by scientists and health buffs as better protein sources (than four-legged land-bred animal meat).
These ecosystems are naturally interactive and we, humans, must manage our activities and relations with each in the most prudent and sustainable manner. Otherwise, we are probably marching to our own extinction and/or causing the slow death of our planet Earth. This column does not claim to be discovering anything new.
This warning was first heard in the late 1970s, when the United Nations had the Gro Brundtland Commission study the state of our total environment because warnings of pollution of the air, soil and oceans had been raised by scientists—as a result of human activities, all in the name of progress, and for the sake of mankind’s economic development. In the early 1980s the Brundtland Commission published its findings in the book Our Common Future. The message: Conclusively, our planet Earth is endangered by human activities, the source of all pollution that cause earth warming and the hole in the ozone layer over the South Pole. All nations must unite to protect our only planet.
But that was only a quarter of a century after the end of World War II; most nations had just been decolonized and were merely starting their development stages, the Cold War between the democracies and the communists was at its second turn, the competition for ideological influence had heated up and the economic race was on its second lap. Thus, each country was intentionally or unmindfully ignorant of the environment’s sustainable health. Each was after its own national self-interest because in foreign relations “there are no permanent friends, only permanent national interests.”
The developed or industrialized nations wanted to control and sell, in a limited way, their technologies as the economic drivers towards the end of the 20th century and thereafter. They started working with new technologies to produce alternative sources of energy and innovations on old technologies to reduce atmospheric toxic emissions. On the other hand, the developing countries of Asia and Eastern Europe started pirating Western technologies but continued using coal as the cheapest (but worst polluting) fuel to industrialize and succeed in the global economic derby.
The earth’s population had been multiplying at a fast rate since World War II ended in 1945 and there are now seven billion people. But that also reduced the agricultural resources as urbanization shot up at rocket speed. China and India now have more megacities than the US, Japan, Germany and other Western European countries. And the Asean capitals are not lagging behind, as Jakarta, Manila, Bangkok now each have more than 10 million populations even at nighttime.
Mountains around Metro Manila, and Metro Jakarta are considered to have been leveled 30 years ago to build housing for new urban dwellers who were attracted by job opportunities. To a lesser degree, the same is true in Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam. This in turn has diminished the area devoted to croplands as rice fields and orchards have been converted into residential areas which, incidentally, are taxed more than agricultural lands.
The trend is even more serious considering China’s offers of technologies, financing and infrastructure assistance to the ASEAN members to connect with Beijing under its One Belt, One Road program. Undoubtedly, this will move more goods and people between the Asean capitals and Beijing. It will also spur economic activities and consumer spending—and more housing for people to be accommodated in the enlarging urban areas.
And this has elicited a response from Japan and India with their Asia-Africa Cooperation Corridor in obvious competition for hegemony with China. And the US, in its competition against China for Asia-Pacific hegemony, and China’s clear military build ups in the South China Sea, has offered closer military and economic cooperation/aid with the Asean 10 this year.
It cannot be denied all these aforementioned will greatly affect the Philippines—and the Asean region’s—concern on food and water security. Admittedly, job opportunities in large urban settlements will be a magnet for workers coming from the provinces.
It will be a boon to the real estate businesses as demand for housing and office condominiums is bound to shoot up. But it will promote consumer spending at the expense of agri-fisheries and food production for national sufficiency.
It is now bad for the average Filipino farmer aged between 57 and 60. It is expected to go up to 65 as the younger generations here would rather go work abroad and earn more, then remit hard currencies for their families. Last year, the overseas Filipino workers’ remittances (by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas) were reported to be US$27 billion; and it is expected to be around US$30 billion by yearend.
Thus, the need today is finding the qualified manpower to manage our resources and ecosystems. This in turn means getting the effective communicators to help these managers make the rural Aseans understand modern methods for agri-fishieries production and increased productivity; and to be empowered with innovative and entrepreneurial capabilities, critical thinking and a futuristics outlook.