(Note: This is a copy of a paper that I had submitted in ENRM 236: Governance of Upland Ecosystems, in November 2014. I am currently enrolled in the course, Master of Environment and Natural Resources Management in UPOU.)
The horrors of super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) may probably linger in our minds for as long as we live. Many wondered and are still puzzled as to how a country that is so used to strong typhoons and cyclones seems to be still unprepared to the magnitude of strong typhoons like Yolanda, which caused the loss of more than 6,300 lives and more than 1,000 still missing (NDRRMC, 2014).
The aftermath and damage of Yolanda as well as all the other equally-damaging typhoons paint a gruesome picture to our national landscape. We (those who have not been significantly affected) can go on with our lives without much of ‘psychological scars’ but the memories will forever be painfully etched for those who have lost their loved ones, homes, and properties.
Now, in the quiet after the storm, we are faced with two clear choices: (a) to simply go on with our lives not really caring or (b) doing something meaningful that will have lasting impact to the lives of others. The second choice can be done through an act that is as simple as planting a tree, most especially, a mangrove tree. Why mangrove trees? What program can we look at to give us the bigger picture of reforestation as part of our country’s climate action? Through this brief paper, we are taking a closer look at the National Greening Program of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) with focus on mangrove trees.
II. Multi-tasking mangrove trees (a snapshot from literature)
Mangrove trees do significant environmental services. They are typically medium in height and very tolerant, allowing them to survive in brackish water. The Philippines are believed to be hosting more than 50% of the world’s 70 mangrove species (FPE, 2014). Mangrove trees’ benefits are summarized below:
- providing protection and shelter against extreme weather events, such as storm surges, floods, and tsunamis. Mangroves absorb and disperse tidal surges, for example, “a mangrove stand of 30 trees per 0.01 hectare with a depth of 100 m can reduce the destructive force of a tsunami by up to 90%” (Hirashi and Harada, 2003, as cited in Wetlands International, n.d.)
- acting as carbon sink by absorbing significant amount of carbon dioxide; mangrove trees are capable of absorbing up to 4 times more carbon than their counterpart in tropical rainforests (Ranada, 2013).
- providing habitat, food and nourishment for rich varieties of animal and plant species (e.g., many marine and fish species reproduce and spend time in the mangroves as juveniles or adults (Wetlands International, n.d.).
- contributing to ecological balance by preventing sedimentation, which leads to siltation in coral reefs; accumulated soil and debris also facilitates the expansion of lands (FPE, 2014).
- producing timber and plant products as these species of trees are useful and valuable; wood from mangrove trees are perfect for construction and are commercially used for pulp, wood chip, fuel, and charcoal production; meanwhile, certain species are used for medicinal purposes (WWF, n.d.)
- Contributing to tourism revenues as they add beauty to beachfronts and coastal communities; the diversity of marine species in the areas also attracts snorkeling enthusiasts (WWF, n.d.).
Indeed, mangrove trees provide valuable environmental services and are proofs of how rich and blessed our country is. Their significance should also be seen in the context of climate change. More severe weather events are expected in this part of the world. Storm surges, such as those that happened in Tacloban City, are caused by extreme or very strong typhoon winds, which eventually cause sea waters to surge over and submerge coastal towns. Super typhoon Yolanda was observed to have caused storm surges of up to five meters high (McIvor et al., 2012b, as cited in Primavera, 2013).
While mangrove trees will not stop strong tidal waves and storm surges, they do tend to lessen impact and act as buffer zone. They also absorb carbon dioxide, which significantly contributes to the rise in global temperature. Indeed, mangrove trees are our multi-tasking super-trees! It then becomes necessary that mangrove areas’ rehabilitation be an indispensable part of any greening and reforestation initiative. Let us now consider DENR’s National Greening Program.
III. Understanding the National Greening Program
The NGP is primarily a two-pronged initiative, contributing to climate change mitigation efforts and poverty alleviation by addressing the need for livelihood of marginalized upland communities and even lowland families (DENR, n.d.). The program involves reforestation in public lands such as forestlands, mangrove and protected areas, ancestral domains, civil and military reservation, sites targeted for urban greening, inactive mining areas, and other suitable lands. (DENR, n.d.) What is noteworthy about the program is its multi-agency approach, requiring government agencies to conduct their own tree-planting activities. For example, agencies such as the Departments of Labor and Employment, Justice, National Defense, and Interior and Local Government, Education, and Public Works and Highways have issued circulars and administrative orders requiring their regional offices to conduct tree-planting activities.
Rehabilitation of mangrove areas is part of the goals of NGP. It is targeted to cover about 380 kilometers of coastline (Ranada, 2013). Region 8, being prone to strong typhoons, is among its beneficiaries. Aside from its participation in the NGP, Eastern Visayas is also conducting the Leyte Gulf Rehabilitation program, which had been allotted a budget of P38 million. It targets to rehabilitate the mangrove and beach forest areas from Palo, Leyte to San Juanico Bridge, Tacloban City, and other areas along the San Juanico Gulf (spanning the provinces of Leyte, Samar and Eastern Samar) and covering about 38.5 km of coastline (DENR Region 8, n.d.).
IV. Success and criticisms
The NGP covers all the regions and has so far led to the planting of more than 397 million trees (DENR, 2014). Region 8 (Eastern Visayas), which has been significantly damaged by Yolanda, is indeed benefiting from the NGP. In 2013, a report has indicated that the government is planning to reconfigure the plans for Eastern Visayas primarily because of super typhoon Yolanda; more focus will be given to the rehabilitation of coastal areas over reforestation efforts in upland areas (Ranada, 2013). So far, tree-planting activities are taking place in coastal areas in Tacloban City and Dulag town in Leyte; Guiuan, Llorente, and Balangiga in Eastern Samar; and Basey in Samar (Ranada, 2013). Meanwhile, Borongan, Easter Samar has already targeted the planting of mangrove trees in about 1,150 hectares in the Leyte Gulf area (Azura, 2014).
There are accounts of successful implementation. For example, the program had been observed as directly assisting communities because it requires the employment of locals, many of whom have been rendered jobless after Yolanda’s wrath.
However, there had been problems and criticisms as well. The following are just some of them:
- failure to adopt science-based protocols in mangrove rehabilitation. For example, planting at the seafront is not ideal because it leads to high mortality (i.e., the lower intertidal to subtidal location is not a favorable spot for mangrove trees) (Primavera, 2013).
- planting of wrong species of trees or devoting more areas for fast-growing species meant for commercial purposes (Ranada, 2014)
- lack of massive and serious educational and social marketing programs (Primavera, 2013)
- planting of wrong species of trees (e.g., fast-growing bamboo varieties, which cannot withstand storm surges and low water supply) (Primavera, 2013).
- expansion of fishponds (many were illegally established) ultimately reduces mangrove areas
- poor implementation of greenbelt laws (e.g., PD 705 of 1975, PD 953 of 1976, PD 1067, DENR Administrative Order 42 of 1986, DENR AO 76 of 1987, Fisheries Code of 1998, etc.) (Primavera, 2013)
- seemingly lopsided view of trees as income-generating goods against the need for protection and conservation; there are reports of intentional burning so that more trees will be funded, ultimately generating income for the planters (Ranada, 2014)
- weak monitoring instruments (Primavera & Esteban, 2008)
I have also observed that most of the NGP documents and reports focused mainly on the number of trees to be planted and had already been planted rather than the over-all impact to ecological and societal goals. It is understandable that economic gains must be ensured so that the people can benefit equitably from the use of our natural resources. However, I also think that more seriousness and efforts must be given to the meaning of NGP to our long-term survival vis-à-vis climate change and environmental protection.
In the context of mangrove plantation, I think that there is also lesser importance given to it. The projects and reports show small percentage of areas (and funds) given to mangrove rehabilitation. There are also few materials on these very important tree species.
V. Moving forward
We have began this paper by recalling the pains and damages from super typhoon Yolanda. I have chosen this topic because I feel that we need to do more about our coastal ecosystems, primarily, our mangrove areas, in the context of climate change and environmental management. These “multi-tasking” trees deserve more attention than what we are giving them at the moment. The following are just some of the interventions, which we can still do or adopt:
- our responses should be more “people-centric”; the NGP seems to be partnering with both the public and private sectors, however, I have yet to see a significant number of people or organizations who are actually authentically engaged
- the NGP managers should also develop reports that meaningfully carry lessons and best practices, and not just show statistics on the number of trees planted or areas covered
- more massive information dissemination and social marketing must be done and such efforts should not also concentrate on the cold statistics alone
- the tendency to look at tree-planting as “easy money” sources (thereby, leading to rampant burning) may be prevented by establishing credible third party “Bantay Kagubatan” squads all over the country (e.g., volunteers, students, employees of private offices, etc.)
- Most importantly, perhaps, we need to “re-appreciate” our forests by connecting them to our spiritual growth—seeing them as our anchor, that ever-nurturing force which gives us strength, refuge, breath, and sustenance. This may be done through more values formation activities and integration in the educational system, faith-based and church organizations, corporate social responsibility interventions, media engagement, and deeper people and private sector engagement.
We need to put our acts together before another Yolanda—probably stronger—hits us again, totally unprepared.
Azura, B. (2014, April 2). CENRO-Borongan to rehabilitate mangroves in coastal areas, Sinirangan News. Available at http://www.sinirangan-news.net/2014/04/cenro-borongan-to-implement-p1-billion.html
Department of Environment and Natural Resources. (2014). National Greening Program Annual Accomplishment Report (2014), NGP Website. Available at http://ngp.denr.gov.ph/index.php/site-administrator/ngp-accomplishment-report
Department of Environment and Natural Resources. (n.d.) National Greening Program, DENR website. Available at http://www.denr.gov.ph/priority-programs/national-greening-program.html and http://ngp.denr.gov.ph/
Department of Environment and Natural Resources – Region 8. (n.d.). EV to benefit from the 1B peso mangrove rehab project. Available at http://r8.denr.gov.ph/index.php/86-region-news-items/330-ev-to-benefit-from-the-1-billion-peso-mangrove-rehab-project
Foundation of the Philippine Environment (2014, February 17). The Lay of the Land: Ecosystem Diversity in the Philippines (website of the Foundation of the Philippine Environment). Available at http://fpe.ph/biodiversity.html/view/the-lay-of-the-land-ecosystem-diversity-in-the-philippines
National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. (2014, April 17). Updates regarding the effects of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). Available at http://www.ndrrmc.gov.ph/attachments/article/1177/Update%20Effects%20TY%20YOLANDA%2017%20April%202014.pdf
Ranada, P. (2013, November 20) DENR to restore mangrove forests in Yolanda-hit areas, Rappler. Available at http://www.rappler.com/move-ph/issues/disasters/typhoon-yolanda/44182-denr-restore-mangrove-forests-yolanda
Ranada, P. (2014, June 22). Rethinking the National Greening Program, Rappler. Available at http://www.rappler.com/move-ph/ispeak/60948-rethinking-national-greening-program
Rath A. (n.d.). Mangrove importance, World Wildlife Fund website. Available at http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/blue_planet/coasts/mangroves/mangrove_importance/
Primavera, J. (2013, December 19). Shelter from the storm: Coastal greenbelts of mangroves and beach forests, Philippine Star. Available at http://www.philstar.com/science-and-technology/2013/12/19/1269584/shelter-storm-coastal-greenbelts-mangroves-and-beach
Primavera, J. H., & Esteban, J. M. A. (2008). A review of mangrove rehabilitation in the Philippines: successes, failures and future prospects. Wetlands Ecology and Management, 16(5), 345–358. Available at http://repository.seafdec.org.ph/handle/10862/93
Wetlands International (n.d.) Mangrove Forests (Website of Wetland International). Available at http://www.wetlands.org/Whatarewetlands/Mangroveforests/tabid/2730/Default.aspx
This is not a paid blog. (I do not ask for any donation but I hope you can plant a tree on your birthday/s.)