By John Paolo J. Bencito
Many may criticize Mayor Joseph Ejercito Estrada for the tumultuous changes he has done in the capital city – phasing out buses to avoid traffic, contentious daytime truck bans, penalizing higher rates for traffic violators and much, much more.
But it is undeniable that he has the political will to execute his programs, and it may prove to be a much needed trait to prevent environmental hazards.
We all know that “lack of political will” is the culprit of all poorly performing anti-corruption programs. The ever-complex concept of political will also applies on how you can move mountains, or in the case of the City of Manila – oil depots.
Just recently, the never-ending debacle on whether or not the oil depot in Pandacan district should stay or not may come to an ultimate close as Mayor Erap reaffirms Ordinance No. 8283, which orders the Big 3 – Pilipinas Shell, Petron, and Chevron Philippines to move out of the city by January 2016.
The long scuffle on the issue of the hundred-year stay of the oil depots in the highly-populated city substantially flip-flopped over the years, even reaching the high courts.
Oil depot removal
The oil depot in Pandacan, Manila occupies 33 hectares of land and 313 million liters of gasoline, diesel, bunker oil, LPG, aviation jet fuel and other highly toxic and hazardous chemicals.
The facility supplies 1,800 fuel stations in Metro Manila and nearby provinces; 70 percent of the shipping industry’s fuel requirements; 90 percent of lubricants nationwide; and 75 percent of aviation fuel needs in the country.
The continued operation of the oil depot in a densely populated major city has been a subject of various concerns, including its environmental and health impact to the residents of the adjacent community surrounding the compound, as well as to the larger Manila population.
Various incidents such as in 1999 where the First Philippine Industrial Corporation (FPIC) pipeline running from Batangas to Pandacan was accidentally punctured resulting in an explosion and fire that gutted hundreds of houses and commercial establishments in Muntinlupa City.
The recent oil leakage from the same pipeline in Bangkal, Makati City on July 2010 also caused more than a hundred families to be evacuated because of the toxic fumes leaking from the said facility.
These issues have been raised to the possibility that the same would happen to the oil depot, if not relocated.
Moreover, the University of the Philippines College of Medicine conducted a study and found out that the number of cases of neurophysical disorders in Pandacan have been progressively increasing.
Another health survey proved that the air in and surrounding the oil depot contains high levels of Benzene – a highly volatile compound known to increase the risk of cancer and wreaks havoc on the nervous, respiratory and immune systems.
Furthermore, certain predictions of experts that disaster may come now and within 50 years, such as magnitude 7.2 earthquakes, will put lives and properties of Manileños in grave danger if the oil depot remains within the city limits.
The continued stay of the oil depot in Pandacan poses a clear and present danger to health, lives, and properties of Manileños.
Meanwhile, proposals and demands from oil companies suggest that such removal can result to a shortage of oil products. In addition, they assert that the price of oil products would have to be raised.
Shut down by 2016
After a long battle, unresolved by 3 administrations for more than a decade, efforts to close down the oil depot of multinational firms in Pandacan, Manila, have finally borne fruit.
On April 3, Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada signed letters to Chevron, Petron, and Shell, instructing them to submit their “comprehensive plan and relocation schedule,” as he wants them out by January 31, 2016, or 5 months before his first term as city mayor ends.
Environment groups such as Advocates for Environment and Social Justice (AESJ) based in Pandacan, Manila has actively campaigned for the steadfast and consistent call for the relocation of the oil depot outside of Manila.
This is because of the unimaginable danger and threat it poses to the district of Pandacan, the entire city and nearby towns.
As of now, Petron and Chevron made a commitment that they will relocate before January 2016 in compliance with Manila City Ordinance No. 8283, and will cooperate with the on-going efforts by advocacy groups.
Meanwhile, Shell will wait for the result of their petition before the Makati Regional Trial Court before resolving onto the letter by Mayor Estrada.
The long standing issue to boot the oil depot out of Manila would not be a reality if not for collective action by environment groups and Erap’s re-affirmation.
“Urban renewal” was part of the former President’s 5-point campaign agenda during his 2013 bid for the mayoralty, slamming his 84-year-old predecessor.
He promised that the city council would help push for the passage of ordinances on education, health, and housing.
By Andrea Lim
Progressive environmental groups condemned the security forces of a mining corporation in Nueva Vizcaya for harassing students and professors from the University of the Philippines (UP) trekking to a mining-affected community in Sitio Bit-ang in Barangay Runruno.
According to Leon Dulce, spokesperson for the Task Force-Justice for Environmental Defenders (TF-JED) and Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE) campaign coordinator, forests advocates from UP were on a tree-planting activity in Barangay Runruno when they were harassed by heavily armed security personnel of FCF Minerals Corporation and local policemen.
The party, composed of three professors and 12 students who
are also members of a university-based environmental organization, including a reported from the university’s publication Philippine Collegian, was held up by 13 security guards in civilian clothes for more than six hours, preventing them from conducting their tree-planting activity last May 31.
The group had already secured earlier permission to visit the community.
“Since when did efforts to plant trees and ultimately reforest an important watershed area affected by mining development activities become a prohibited action?” Dulce said.
UP Prof. Joanne Manzano, member of the regional advocacy group Taripnong Cagayan Valley and a participant in the tree-planting activity, said that a certain PO1 Primo Valdez told the group that ‘reforesting Sitio Bit-ang is not allowed.’
Threat to indigenous people
The mining firm plans to demolish structures in Sitio Bit-ang as part of their mining operations. Meanwhile, community members continue to carry out protests against the big mining project, from setting up barricades to sending out letters of protests to authorities to conducting dialogues with local government officials.
A fact-finding mission in Brgy. Runruno last year states that FCF Minerals claimed they had ‘mineral rights’ on the land below the properties of the peasants and indigenous people in the area who only had ‘surface rights’ and thus can be displaced by the mining company.
“We fear that what happened to us will also be done to indigenous peoples in Nueva Vizcaya. If they can intimidate professors and students from the University of the Philippines, they can surely do it with the residents of the communities,” Prof. Manzano added.
Threat to balanced economy
Prof. Manzano says that the FCF Minerals’ Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) permits mining firms to cut down trees, utilize and even pollute water sources, and expel indigenous people from their homes, taking away their livelihood for the large foreign mining firm’s profits.
A total of 515,520 hectares of watershed reserves have been proclaimed in Nueva Vizcaya. The province was declared by NEDA as a ‘watershed haven’, supporting seven multi-million infrastructure projects for irrigation and hydroelectric power generation purposes, including the Magat and Casecnan Hydroelectric Power Dams.
Noni Abao, a member of the university-based group Minggan-UP Diliman that sponsored the tree-planting activity, also says that the mining operations threaten the biodiversity of the Sierra Madre mountain range.
The province is home to forest reserves and protected areas, including parts of the Palali-Mamparang Mountain Range, which is a section of the Sierra Madre Mountains in Kasibu and Quezon towns that is one of the eight biodiversity hotspots in the country.
“By preventing the work of environmental advocates, violating the rights of indigenous peoples and anti-mining activists, and perpetrating environmental destruction, FCF Minerals is clearly one of the biggest threats to our rights to land, life, and a healthful and balanced ecology in Nueva Vizcaya.” Dulce said.
“These human rights violations should be immediately investigated by the Commission on Human Rights and the provincial government, and FCF Minerals’ permit should be cancelled if proven guilty,” Dulce concluded.
The consequences of large-scale mining
By Andrea Lim
After the cancellation of a mining franchise due to environmental damage in a local community in Española, Palawan, mining companies have to think twice about the way they implement mining operation procedures.
Two rivers have been put at the risk of being “biologically dead” due to Citinickel Mining and Development Corporation’s nickel mining project.
An environmental and scientist group conducted an Environmental Investigative Mission (EIM) in surrounding areas of the Pulot nickel-mining project on November 2012, and reports revealed mortalities of shellfish, fish, aquatic and coastal plants and other organisms.
The fact-finding mission was in done in response to complaints of local residents that the rivers in the area seemed to cry “crimson tears” every rainfall, noted especially during the heavy rains brought about by the Habagat storms.
According to Finesa Cosico, lead scientist of the EIM, crying crimson tears mean “oxygen depletion and the eventual biological death of the rivers.”
Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) national coordinator Clemente Bautista said that interviews with locals revealed that the productivity of affected fisheries and agricultural lands experienced a radical decline since the start of Citinickel’s mining operations.
There have also been cases of respiratory and skin diseases, among others, that can be attributed to the mining’s effects.
Price to Pay
Citinickel Mines and Development Corp. confirmed that there was an incident of overflowed water with silt, and paid a Php375,000 penalty fine to the government.
It also claims to have stopped their mining operations and immediately cleaned up and rehabilitated the river and some adjacent farm lots that were affected by the overflow.
On the other hand, the damage has already been done and despite this incident, mining companies, with the majority being foreign-owned, continue to operate in the country.
Large-scale mining operations also continue to show how indifferent the Aquino administration is to the demands of the people and the protection of the environment. It has no problem in giving in to the interests of multinational mining corporations.
Last June 13, Citinickel Mines and Development Corp. have been suspended indefinitely from operating its nickel mine in Española.
The spill happened in Citinickel’s Pulot mine on June 5 when the miner’s siltation control facilities were breached and caused massive discoloration and build up of sediments in the Pasi and Pulot Rivers, the bureau said in a June 10 suspension order.
On-site reports reaching the bureau showed the breach in the silt pond has not been repaired and traces of laterite sediments were still present in the rivers, MGB director Leo Jasareno said.
The mining company is a subsidiary of Oriental Peninsula Resources Group, whose shares are traded on the Philippine Stock Exchange.
Is the Aquino administration turning a blind eye on US environmental violations?
Malacañang has chosen to play favorites, condemning China for its brazen acts against the country’s environment, and yet are absolutely lenient when it comes to US ecological violations.
Is President Aquino not addressing the issue in fear that it will affect RP-US diplomatic relations, especially when much-needed military support has been emphasized after the previous Obama visit?
The Aquino administration’s sincerity in following up the case of the destruction of the Tubbataha reefs over a year ago by both Chinese vessels and US warships found in Philippine waters is put into question due to its lack of interest in pursuing the US while calling for China’s accountability in the incident.
The grounding of the USS Guardian in Tubbataha last 2013 caused the destruction of at least 2,345 square meters of the marine protected area, while Chinese fishing vessels hit the heritage site not long after.
The government is quick to condemn China for the damage it caused, stating that they are here to defy our national sovereignty and poach within Philippine waters.
Environmental groups raised concerns that other marine reserves and areas would not fare so well as the Tubbataha Reef if poaching activities continued.
Meanwhile, the government continues to neglect its obligation to also hold responsible the US whose presence in the Philippines is to guard its country’s interests.
In 2012, a US warship allegedly disposed toxic chemical wastes at Subic Bay, claiming as means of a cover-up that it disposed “waste water” which was already treated aboard the ship.
However, the secret dumping of toxic waste is an affront to Philippine sovereignty, as it showed their utter disregard for the environment and health of the Filipinos.
Importance of Tubbataha
The Tubbataha Reef Marine Park covers about 130,028 hectares, including the North and South Reefs. It is a unique example of an atoll reef with a very high density of marine species, with the North Islet serving as a nesting site for birds and marine turtles.
The site is an excellent example of a pristine coral reef with a 100-meter perpendicular wall, extensive lagoons and two coral islands.
In December 1993, UNESCO declared Tubbataha as a World Heritage Site. With 358 species of mostly hard corals, it is recognized as having one of the most remarkable coral reefs on the planet.
One millimeter of hard corals takes one year to grow, while one meter of hard corals to mature takes approximately 250 years.
According to CNN, Tubbataha is among the top eight dive sites in the world.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has classified an additional 206 caves, bringing to 364 the total number of caverns considered as part of the nation’s natural wealth and therefore require sustainable management and conservation.
The classification, according to DENR Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje, was pursuant to Republic Act No. 9072, or the National Caves and Cave Resources Management and Protection Act, which mandates the agency to formulate, develop and implement a national program to conserve, protect and manage caves and cave resources.
“Caves are non-renewable resources with unique, natural features that offer significant scientific, educational, economic and aesthetic value and form part of our historical and cultural heritage,” Paje pointed out.
He added: “Caves can also be used for our enjoyment, but only to a certain extent. Classifying caves accordingly will thus help define which human activities are allowed within these areas so that we can preserve them in their pristine state, or improve them if necessary.”
Under DENR Memorandum Circular 2014-03, the newly classified caves are found in 11 regions, with Region 2 having the most number of caves at 101, followed by Region 11 with 30 caves.
Among the provinces, Cagayan has the most number of caves with 83, while Davao del Norte was far second with 18 caves.
Caves are classified into three categories or classes. “Class I” caves are characterized with delicate and fragile geological formations, may be habitats of threatened species, provide archaeological values and possess extremely hazardous conditions. As such, activities allowed in these caves are limited to mapping, photography, educational and scientific purposes.
The DENR circular has listed 21 Class I caves, including the Masi Cave in Adams, Ilocos Norte, the Pagulayan Cave within the Peñablanca Protected Landscape in Cagayan, and the Santol Cave in the Island Garden City of Samal in Davao del Norte.
“Class II” caves have sensitive geologic values or high quality ecosystems, as well as portions with hazardous conditions. As such, they may be closed seasonally or permanently, or may be open only to experienced cavers or guided educational tours. The famous Sohoton Cave in Samar Island Natural Park is one of 154 Class II caves identified in the circular.
“Class III” caves are safe for inexperienced yet guide-accompanied visitors, as these do not contain known threatened species or geological or historical values. These caves may also be utilized when appropriate for economic purposes such as extraction of guano (bat waste) and collection of edible bird nests.
There are 30 such caves under the new list, among them the Aglipay Cave 5 in the Quirino Protected Landscape, and the Mat-i Cave 2 in Baganga, Davao Oriental.
Classification of caves is continuously being undertaken by the DENR. The new list, however, contains 86 caves, mostly located in Cagayan province, assessed and classified by the National Museum for their archaeological or historical value, and 15 in Palawan province by the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development.
Upon classification, the DENR field offices oversee the preparation of a management plan on related ecotourism, scientific, educational and economic activities.
The approved plan is implemented by the Protected Area Management Board for caves within protected areas (PAs), or in coordination with the concerned local government unit and land owner for those outside PAs.
By Nicole Ann M. Aguila
All people might not know how important sharks are on our planet, thus raising awareness is the key to finally educate the whole world reasons why we must protect them.
Who would have thought that an airline company will put an effort to save marine life? Yes, Philippine Airlines or PAL just announced the ban of shipping of sharks’ fins.
This is after Greenpeace Southeast Asia, Philippine Animal Welfare Society, Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines Earth Island Institute – Philippines and other concerned organization started a petition that protests against their freight policy.
“The announcement of PAL is also a victory for all sharks species who are brutally murdered for their fins,” said Anna Oposa, cofounder of Save Philippine Seas and founder of the Shark Shelter Project in Malapascua Island.
The airline was previously reported tohave shipped 136 x 50 kg bags accumulating 6,800 kg of dried shark fins at a Hong Kong storeroom run by Global Marine.
Shark fins are hailed as an important ingredient on soups and traditional cures in China. But animal welfare groups toughly disagree with the trade, which usually comprises of taking only the fins and leaving the main body dead in the ocean.
“Sharks help in maintaining the balance of the marine ecosystem. Their dwindling numbers due to the growing demand for shark’s fin soup and other shark products, already upset the problematic status of our seas and oceans,” said Greenpeace Philippines oceans campaigner Vince Cinches.
“We are asking everyone to remain vigilant and make sure that PAL will honor its commitment and advise other airlines to adopt a similar shark ban to help save our marine ecosystem,” he said.
Shark finning is the practice of slicing off the shark’s fins while the shark is still alive and throwing the rest of its body back into the ocean where it can take days to die what must be an agonizing death.
Globally, tens of millions of sharks are slaughtered every year to satisfy the demand for shark fin soup; at least 8,000 tonnes of shark fins are shipped to restaurants around the world. Fishermen report that sharks are getting smaller because they are not being given time to mature.
Sharks are a critical component in an ecosystem that provides 1/3 of our world with food. The ocean produces more oxygen than all the rainforests combined, removes half of the atmosphere’s manmade carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas), and controls our planet’s temperature and weather.
Sharks play a vital role at the top of the food chain by maintaining balance in the oceans. Destroying shark populations could destroy our oceans and our life support system.
(Ms. Aguila is currently an intern for OpinYon. She is an incoming fourth year student in AB Communication Arts in Malayan College in Cabuyao, Laguna.)
AS the world celebrated Earth Day last April 22, Senator Loren Legarda renewed her call to protect marine biodiversity and preserve the country’s ecosystems.
Legarda, Chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, said that the country’s natural resources, especially those within our seas, are crucial to the survival of Filipinos, especially that the Philippines is an archipelago.
“We are fortunate to have been blessed with abundant natural resources. In fact, we are one of the 17 megadiverse countries, home to majority of Earth’s species. Unfortunately, we are also one of the world’s top biodiversity hotspots, with a large number of species that are endangered or threatened with extinction,” she lamented.
“The Philippines also has one of the world’s richest marine ecosystems, characterized by extensive coral reefs, sea-grass beds and dense mangroves. But despite this richness in marine resources, about 3.9 million families still experienced hunger in the last quarter of 2013 and many of those living in coastal communities remain poor with 4 of 10 coastal residents living under poverty line,” she added.
“We must all work, in our own and simple yet big and determined steps, to help resuscitate our ailing environment. Let us turn away from extractive and consumptive way of living and strive to make a positive impact on our natural resources—may it be by saving on fuel, energy and water consumption, recycling, proper solid waste management or growing trees,” Legarda said.
“We must put an end to the exploitation and exportation of corals as well as the fishing and taking of any rare, threatened and endangered species. Our fishermen should stop the use of fine mesh net, explosives and other poisonous substance in our seas,” she added.
Last April 22, the Senator launched a video documentary on Philippine marine biodiversity to raise awareness on the current condition of the country’s marine life and underwater resources.
The project is a collaboration with award-winning director Brillante Mendoza, in partnership with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Philippine Information Agency.
The documentary features marine videos from underwater videographer Robert “Bobbit” Suntay and his fellow videographers Jan Acosta, Boogs Rosales and Wowie Wong from the Network of Underwater Digital Imagers (NUDI).
“We celebrate Earth Day every year on April 22 and we are reminded to nurture our planet which abundantly provides us with the resources we need to survive. We are encouraged to strengthen our commitment to save the Earth and contribute to the sustainability of our nation,” Legarda said, in concluding her speech.
The senator also warned that neglecting our marine resources can result to hunger and poverty for millions of Filipinos. “Its (marine ecosystem) destruction affects the livelihood of coastal communities, our food supply, our tourism and our economy.”
[Speech by Sen. Loren Legarda’s Speech
Forum on Green Building Initiative
23 April 2014 – Dusit Thani Hotel, Makati ]
The future communities in the Philippines will vastly differ from the ones we live in today. As we witness the 21st century unfold, our nation faces a new set of technological, socioeconomic and global challenges that are more complex than any of us have ever experienced in our shared history. They dramatically alter the way we live in our communities, and at stake is the quality of life, not only of ours, but of our progeny.
It is the responsibility of the government, especially local government units, to understand these challenges and to take proactive measures that will optimize our nation’s future — to plan, build and support sustainable communities.
The U.N. World Commission on Environment and Development described sustainability as a development that ‘meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ A sustainable community is an end goal: the government and the people share a common vision, engage each other in the intricacies, and together bring it to fruition.
The first step towards building a sustainable community is to correct one of the biggest misconceptions about the environment—that natural resources are infinite. Clearly, Earth’s resources are not limitless. We are now witnessing the rapid decline of our forest cover, water supply, air quality and the demise of our biodiversity.
In order to build a sustainable society, it cannot be business as usual. We need to stop consuming more than we need and start making sacrifices, including cuts in our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The Asian Development Bank’s Key Indicators for Asia and the Pacific 2012 noted that the increase in carbon dioxide emissions could rise to 10.2 metric tons per capita by 2050 if interventions to reverse the trend are not introduced.
A cursory look now proves that the 4-degree Celsius world, which may have seemed impossible 20 years ago, is not far off today.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 4th Assessment Report suggested that a 1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius increase in global mean temperatures from pre-industrial levels threatens extinction of 30 percent of all species.
Climate change, according to reports, threatens food security as crop yields are estimated to decline by 19 percent in Asia towards the end of the century. Rice yield in the Philippines is projected to decline by 75 percent. A 4-degree scenario doubles these impacts.
A hotter global temperature will result in damaging sea levels, extreme weather and food insecurity. Flood, droughts and hunger are already issues we are dealing with today. The more frequent and stronger storms we are experiencing have been affecting our economic development as well.
For instance, losses due to Typhoon Yolanda are estimated at 571 billion pesos, which represents close to five percent of the Philippines’ annual GDP. Meanwhile, losses due to typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng in 2009 were equivalent to 2.7% of the country’s GDP.
Indeed, climate change has changed the magnitude and frequency of extreme weather and climate events.
What has brought about the state we are in today?
Key findings of the IPCC 2012 Special Report on Extreme Events revealed that climate change is “unequivocal” and that there is 95 percent likelihood that human activity is the cause of global warming.
Human activity released 545 gigatons of carbon dioxide—the main greenhouse gas from 1750 to 2011.
The Philippines is a minor emitter of GHG. But even as we are taking steps to demand the world’s biggest polluters to reduce their carbon usage for the sake of the planet, we cannot just wait for other parties to turn their commitment into action.
We need to take care of our own backyard so to speak, and in this case we need to make that first step in controlling the levels of anthropogenic pollution. We can cut our carbon emissions, improve our environment and create sustainable communities if we build green.
This is why we are all here today in a triumphant mood. The Climate Change Commission Resolution No. 5, which has been endorsed by President Benigno Aquino, is an important piece in that blueprint towards creating a more sustainable and liveable nation.
When we build green we help reduce our global carbon footprint, we cut down costs and we improve our citizens’ overall way of life. The implementation of the National Climate Change Action Plan by LGUs makes sure that building green not only looks good on paper but also for the planet.
We must also promote community resilience. LGUs could prioritize resilience as part of their political and sustainable development agenda and make reducing disaster risk their legacy opportunity. Paying attention to protection will improve environmental, social and economic conditions, including combating the future variables of climate change. It will also make the communities more prosperous and secure than before. Initiatives could include making schools, hospitals, and other critical public infrastructure resilient against disasters.
As a fundamental development strategy, building resilience would help our government sustain the country’s socio-economic gains, and make a significant difference in poverty reduction.
LGUs are responsible for building sustainable societies where building green will be a way of life. Thus, I urge our LGUs to support this with passion and commitment. I hope that there will be no extensive bureaucratic entanglements because there is no time to lose.
I congratulate the Philippine Green Building Initiative, International Finance Corporation and Climate Change Commission for this initiative and I look forward to the success of this program so that finally all buildings and structures will be built with safety and resilience as the primary foundations. Thank you.
The Department of Agriculture is ready to carry out cloud seeding operations to induce rain over areas that have not received a rainfall for at least one week as part of its proactive strategy against a feared protracted dry spell, even as the country’s weather bureau said it’s too early to tell the occurrence of El Niño phenomenon this year.
With the country now within the summer season, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said he has instructed all the Department’s regional field offices nationwide to monitor and immediately coordinate with the Bureau of Soils and Management (BSWM) any lack of rainfall for seven to ten days in areas under their respective jurisdiction so the Bureau could mobilize its cloud seeding team in a timely manner.
In fact, as early as mid-March, BSWM has completed 15 sorties equivalent to 17 flying hours across the rain-deprived municipalities of Aglipay, Maddela and Nagtipunan, as well as over Magat Watershed areas. The DA Regional Field Unit II reported said sorties helped induce rain showers and prevented damage on some 4,155 hectares of corn farms around the province, of which 3,490 hectares are in reproductive stage and 665 hectares in vegetative stage.
BSWM is an attached agency of DA tasked to undertake cloud seeding sorties to induce rain above drought-affected farming communities.
“We are taking a proactive stance against the threat of a long dry spell even as PAGASA (Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration) is saying El Niño is not yet in sight,” said Secretary Alcala in an interview on a local television program in General Santos City on Friday.
Apart from cloud seeding operations, the Department also readies other interventions such as the provision of with shallow tube wells and drought-tolerant crop varieties to farmers in any part of the country that will be affected by dry spell episodes.
As part of long-term measures, DA has likewise increased its investments in the repair, rehabilitation and construction of new irrigation systems, as well as in the establishment of small water impounding facilities, to help guarantee agricultural water even during dry months. From 2011 to end-December 2013, the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) said it has generated 128,242 hectares of new areas, restored 90,851 hectares and rehabilitated 453,636 hectares. NIA aims to expand total irrigated lands to 1.9 million hectares by 2016, from current 1.67 million hectares.
PAGASA has yet to issue a formal advisory on the occurrence of El Niño except for precautionary verbal warnings, as quoted in several media reports.
Global weather authorities are likewise cautious at this point in time to declare such a phenomenon happening this year. In its latest monthly advisory released in March, the National Prediction Service of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NPS-NOAA) said there is “50% chance of El Niño developing during the summer or fall (July, August, and September).” NPS-NOAA is expected to issue its April update anytime soon. “ENSO-neutral is expected to continue through the Northern Hemisphere spring 2014, with about a 50% chance of El Niño developing during the summer or fall,” the agency said in its website.
ENSO-neutral refers to those periods when neither El Niño nor La Niña or the “cold” equivalent of El Niño is present. El Niño is a warming of sea-surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific that occurs every four to 12 years.The worst El Niño episode the country ever experienced was in 1997-1998, when more than P8 billion worth of crops was destroyed.
By Philipp Gassner
ONE hot summer day in ancient Sicily thousands of years ago, Noble Damocles is guest at a banquet of his tyrant king Dionysius. Surrounded by magnificence, power and authority, Damocles envies the ruler and exclaims: ‘My king, you are truly extremely fortunate’. Promptly, Dionysius offers to switch chairs with Damocles, so that Damocles can taste that very fortune. When Damocles accepts the proposal and sits down in the throne surrounded by every extravagance, Dionysius had arranged a huge, razor-sharp sword hanging above the throne, held only by a single hair of a horse’s tail.
Whereas the ‘Sword of Damocles’ has become a byword for a happy situation overshadowed by danger, risks to our health don’t always have to be as extreme. Of course, there might always be a meteorite on its way to – very improbably – wipe all the life from our green Earth. Yet, everyday life health risks are much more tangible.
Pollution from Pandora’s Box
And air pollution ‘is the single biggest environmental health risk’ with around seven million deaths a year, according to a report the World Health Organization (WHO) issued last month. However, much worse affected than New York is Southeast Asia – now the most polluted region in the world with more than five million deaths from air pollution. Does this pollution stink from Pandora’s box we have opened?
As such evil, the health risk of air pollution can be seen: once freed, it can have persistent and ubiquitous consequences.
Climate Change Oracles
Thousands of years after their creation, people in Greece are often in doubt about important questions in their lives. On such hesitations, the blind seeress Pythia can shed light. She is the most famous oracle and lives in the city of Delphi. One day, a weary king comes to the temple and asks the oracle if he would win the battle. She smiles and tells him a great king would win the battle. That was exactly what he had wanted to hear and he goes away happily. However, when he leads his men into battle, they lose and he is killed by the other king – the great king.
Pythia’s prophecies are enigmatic and ambiguous. They might reveal that a major danger is impending, but they won’t tell how high its probability, severity or distribution might be. The oracle is characteristic for many environmental health risks nowadays, which have high uncertainty with regard to both risk dimensions. Take climate change, already causing an estimated 150,000 deaths annually. These occur, for instance, from more frequent extreme weather conditions, like Typhoon Haiyan, or from affected patterns of food production, impacting on malnutrition.
The same is true for biodiversity loss and the degradation of ecosystems: for many of the world’s poor, one of the greatest environmental threats to health remains lack of access to safe water and sanitation, says the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity. Water resources are replenished and purified by water ecosystems. When they are lost, human health and well-being is undoubtedly put at risk, while exact probabilities, the severity or distribution remain yet unclear.
While sailing home from the Trojan War, the hero Odysseus and his men come ashore to restock their food and water. They are thrilled to find a cave full of sheep, build a fire in the cave, and cook some sheep on a sharpened stick. ‘Uaaagh’, suddenly echoes through the cave and a one-eyed giant appears at the mouth of the cave, swinging a club. Swiftly, Odysseus grabs a sharpened stick and blinds the Cyclops, who is restricted by his one eye. Odysseus and his men get safely away by pretending to be sheep making bah-bah sounds until they crawled to safety.
The Cyclops’ limitation to perceive only one part of reality with his one eye describes also many health risks. When viewing them, only one side can be ascertained while the other remains unsure. It is often the case that risks are greatly underestimated whose magnitude can be grasped but whose probability of occurrence is uncertain or continuously changes.
Prominent examples are vector-borne diseases. Mankind has always co-habited with innumerable other living forms. While many of them support us, some few can transmit infectious diseases between humans or from animals to humans. Such vectors are, for instance, mosquitoes, ticks, flies, or fleas. These benefit from tropical climate, inefficient water management, low priority for health impact in development activities, unplanned urbanization and widespread poverty, but also factors of a changing environment.‘Vector-borne diseases have significant impact on socioeconomic status of communities, and they vigorously fuel the vicious circle of poverty,’ says Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director of the WHO Southeast Asia, indicating the severe effects of such environmental health risks. Nevertheless, cyclops-like, we can’t fully grasp the probabilities of environmental impact. But there is no need to turn to stone.
How to Kill the Beast
In ancient Greece, the world was full of dangers. Some novel phenomena affect people today with the same fear and dread. Instead of turning into stone, however, there are solutions at hand. Remember, Medusa was defeated in the myth with a smart strategy, using a mirror, rather than looking directly in her eyes. Such strategies are emphasized by the World Health Organization (WHO), which is reinforcing the linkages between health and environment. An example is ‘Integrated Vector Management’, promoting greatest disease control benefit, while minimizing negative impacts on ecosystems, e.g., from the excessive use of chemicals.
The WHO works with partners to provide education and improve awareness so that people know how to protect themselves and their communities. But even more important are the conservation of a healthy environment and the mitigation of climate change to minimize the environmental health risks in the first place. On this focuses the ‘Health and Environment Linkages Initiative’ by the WHO and the UN Environment Programme, as does the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity in the region.The Philippine-based Center, supported by the GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit) since 2010, coordinating sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity. After all, the best risk management is prevention: Healthy ecosystems for healthy people. Let’s take this wakeup call seriously and avoid Cassandras’ destiny:
Cassandra was a beautiful young priestess at Apollo’s temple, with great ambition. One day, the mighty god Apollo swings by and is delighted by Cassandra. He is fond of making a deal. If Cassandra kisses him, he would give her the gift of prophecy so she could see into the future. Cassandra does not hesitate. As soon as she is able, she looks eagerly into the future. But she does not like what she sees: Apollo is helping to destroy her beloved city of Troy. She spits in his face. Apollo is furious, and since he could not take away his gift, he adds to it. From that time on, Cassandra could see the future, but no one believed a thing she said. Later, when Cassandra warned her people that the Trojan horse was a trap, nobody paid the slightest attention. They laughed at her and widely opened the doors …
Philipp Gassner is a consultant for science and sustainability communication at the GIZ-assisted Biodiversity and Climate Change Project, implemented by the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity, Philippines.