Category Archives: greens

Floods devastate Asia-Pacific islands

The first great natural disaster of the year in the Asia-Pacific region was the series of flooding disasters which struck Fiji, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines during the early weeks of January. A minor flooding calamity also hit Brunei.

The Western Division of Fiji’s Viti Levu, the country’s largest island, was badly affected by the flooding. At least 10,000 people were housed in schools used as temporary shelters. Water and electricity services were scarce in some parts of the country for several days. A state of emergency was declared by the government in the wake of the disaster.

Flash floods hit the major cities of northern Mindanao in the Philippines on the first day of the New Year. Mindanao Island is located in the southernmost part of the country. At least 30,000 individuals were affected by the disaster.

A second wave of flooding submerged the region last week. Strong rains produced flash floods and deadly landslides in the southern provinces. Officials reported that 80 percent of the villages in the major city of the region were damaged by the flooding. At least 100,000 people were displaced by the flooding catastrophe.

Thirteen provinces in Indonesia were hit by flooding. The floods were reported in several districts of West Nusa Tenggara, Sumatra, Java, Bali, Borneo and Sulawesi provinces. More than 50,000 people had to be evacuated to safer places. Many parts of Jakarta were inundated with seawater. Flooding is normal in the nation’s capital but some bloggers have observed that the recent flooding was “unseasonably early.”

Flooding disrupted the lives of thousands of residents in Malaysia’s Sarawak state, especially in the areas of Bau, Kuching and Sibu. Almost 10,000 people were forced to move to higher ground because of rising water levels. In some parts of the state, flood waters rose to 14 feet. More than 8,000 people in the Bau District were evacuated in 24 temporary shelters. Authorities were forced to shut down 119 schools.

The disaster areas are all located in the southern region of the Asia-Pacific. While tropical storms and flooding are frequent in this part of the world, it is rare that flooding calamities have occurred almost simultaneously. Today’s flooding disaster is not as enormous as the 2004 Asian tsunami, but many bloggers have described the recent flooding as the worst that ever happened in their countries.

The January flooding in Sarawak, Malaysia was worse than the disastrous flooding in 2004. In fact, this year’s flooding was said to be the worst in 20 years. The flooding in northern Mindanao in the Philippines was also unprecedented. The damage caused by the flooding was described by local officials as reaching humanitarian crisis proportions.

What caused the floods? Non-stop rains led to the overflowing of rivers and other bodies of water which flooded the low-lying areas of the affected regions. But there may be other factors as well. Many have insisted that the series of floods was also a manmade disaster caused by garbage pollution, poor infrastructure, urban development, and ineffective flood control programs.

Global warming was also cited as another cause of the freak weather patterns in the region. For example, tropical Philippines is experiencing an unusual cold weather spell.

But if the flooding created enormous casualties, why was there no sense of panic in these countries? Maybe the inhabitants of these islands have learned to expect flooding as a constant but unwelcome visitor in their communities. Maybe they were also unaware of the flooding disasters in neighboring countries.

There have been consistent media reports about the flooding in each of the cited countries, but few have mentioned that the flooding disasters were a region-wide calamity. News reports were mainly focused on specific countries. If concerned citizens and government officials were informed about the regional character of the calamity, maybe they would have initiated region-wide programs to address the flooding problem and its aftermath.

That the flooding tragedies occurred mainly in the provinces and rural areas of Malaysia and the Philippines is another possible explanation why few people were concerned about the flooding. Since the political and economic centers of these countries were unaffected by the flooding, there was no reason for the government and media to sound the alarm. The flooding calamities were trivialized. They were not reported as a top national and international concern.

The best sources of information about the flooding are to be found on the Internet. Citizen journalists in the provinces were active in reporting about their experiences while floodwaters were rising in their towns. They uploaded pictures and videos of the impact.

Filipino bloggers have launched a donation drive through Plurk and other social networking sites. Some bloggers in Fiji have criticized the government for its delayed response to the crisis.

Bloggers accused mainstream media of underreporting the flood destruction in the provinces. They couldn’t understand why the media was prioritizing other mundane local issues while many rural communities were under flood waters. Some even questioned the local media’s obsession with Gaza and Barack Obama’s inauguration while their own fellow citizens were suffering in the provinces.

The floodwaters are already gone in the affected areas but the tragedy lingers. It will take some time before local businesses could bounce back. Students couldn’t yet return to school. Roads have to be cleaned, homes have to be repaired, flood canals have to be reconstructed and more temporary evacuation centers are still required. Where would cash-strapped governments find the resources to finance these projects?

Related entries:

Refugee nation
The perfect storm

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Typhoon 101

Links: Medical education in Brunei. Political blogging in Cambodia. Tag clouds wordle: mongster.

A Nagueno in Blogosphere is correct. The website Typhoon2000.com is very useful and informative.

PAGASA’s weather forecasts are reliable most of the time. But local officials and ordinary citizens who want to validate PAGASA’s weather reports may visit the website Typhoon2000.com.

The website offers useful resources on disaster preparation, history of strong typhoon occurrences in the country, and various scientific data on tropical cyclones.
The website features regular weather updates which can guide local leaders to prepare early and effectively when a storm is about to hit their towns. Satellite images of tropical cyclones are uploaded. Illustrative charts and graphs show the size of typhoons.

Easy-to-follow instructions are given to help track the directions of tropical cyclones. Through the use of a simple online tool, local leaders can determine whether a storm will move towards their area of responsibility. The people can be advised early to prepare for the coming storm. This will minimize the typhoon casualties.

Definitions

Chris Landsea provides the technical definition of the following:

A tropical cyclone is the "generic term for a non-frontal synoptic scale low-pressure system over tropical or sub-tropical waters with thunderstorm activity and definite cyclonic surface wind circulation."

Tropical cyclones with maximum sustained surface winds of less than 39 mph are called tropical depressions. Once the tropical cyclone reaches winds of at least 39 mph they are called a tropical storm. A name is assigned for the tropical storm. If winds reach 74 mph, then they are called typhoon.

Storm signals

PAGASA uses the following guidelines for Philippine storm signals:

Signal 1 – Winds of 30-60 kilometers per hour (kph) may be expected in at least 36 hours or intermittent rains may be expected within 36 hours.

Signal 2 – Winds of greater than 60 kph and up to 100 kph may be expected in at least 24 hours.

Signal 3 – Winds greater than 100 kph up to 185 kph may be expected in at least 18 hours.

Signal 4 – Very strong winds of more than 185 kph may be expected in at least 12 hours.

During storm signal 1, rice crop may suffer significant damage when it is in its flowering stage. The people are advised to listen to the latest severe weather bulletin issued by PAGASA every six hours.

During storm signal 2, some old galvanized iron roofings may be destroyed. The coastal waters are dangerous to small boats. Children are advised to postpone their outdoor activities.

During storm signal 3, there may be widespread disruption of electrical power and communication services. The sea will be very dangerous to all types of seacrafts.

During storm signal 4, most residential and institutional buildings may be severely damaged. All travels and outdoor activities should be canceled.

Watch out for the eye of storm during storm signals 3 and 4. The passage of the eye of the typhoon is indicated "by a sudden occurrence of fair weather immediately after very bad weather." Many people have mistaken this brief calm period as a sign that the storm has quieted down. PAGASA warns that 1-2 hours after the passage of the eye, the worst weather will resume with very strong winds.

Worst disasters

Dominic Alojado and David Michael V. Padua have compiled a list of the strongest and deadliest typhoon disasters in the country. Their report should be read by local and national leaders so that the latter will appreciate the importance of efficient disaster preparation programs. So many lives were lost due to slow relief and rescue efforts every time a natural disaster hits the country.

The year 1970 was memorable not only because of successive and massive student demonstration during the first quarter of the year which came to be known as the First Quarter Storm. With only a few days and weeks as interval, three super typhoons wrought havoc in many populated areas of the country during the third quarter of the year. Super Typhoon Sening was the most popular in this "triplet" super typhoon.

1993 was also memorable since 32 typhoons hit the country on that year alone. Typhoon Kadiang was famous because it unleashed the lahar and other volcanic debris from Mt. Pinatubo. The lahar mudflows buried several towns in Pampanga.

Tropical Storm Uring was the deadliest natural disaster of the country. More than five thousand people died on November 1991 when the storm struck the Visayas regions. A billion pesos worth of properties were destroyed. Tropical Storm Uring triggered the Ormoc flashfloods in Leyte. There were many dead bodies in Ormoc which caused a shortage of coffins in the city.

The country’s most powerful typhoon in history occurred only two years ago. Super Typhoon Reming hit north Visayas and the Bicol region with winds of 320 kph. The super typhoon devastated Legazpi City and Albay province. Legazpi was submerged for many days. Volcanic debris from Mt. Mayon buried thousands of houses. More than one thousand people perished. (Remember the Albay lawmakers who stayed in Manila to push for a Charter Change despite the terrible damage inflicted by Reming in the Bicol region?)

Super Typhoon Ruping is considered the country’s most devastating typhoon which left more damage than any other typhoon had done. On November 1990 Ruping battered the whole Mindanao, Visayas, Central Luzon, Metro Manila, Bicol and Southern Tagalog regions. The super typhoon affected more than one million families or at least five million persons. Ruping destroyed ten billion pesos worth of properties.

Related entries:

Storm Milenyo
Refugee nation
Disaster preparation
Guimaras oil spill

Trahedya

Links: Top 100 blogs of Thailand. Rats in the Singapore Philatelic Museaum. Inacraft 2008 in Indonesia. Funny street signs in Cambodia.

Sinulat para sa Tinig, Pebrero 2006.

Mahalaga ang tanong ni Kelvin Rodolfo sa aklat niyang “The Politics of Lahar”. Ang bulkang Pinatubo ba ay hinayaang tumubo (allowed to grow) o sadyang tumubo (made to grow)? Ilang beses na kasing inulat ng mga Ayta ang kakaibang napapansin nila sa bundok mula nang lumindol noong 1990 at sinimulan ang isang geothermal drilling sa Pinatubo pero hindi pa rin kinilala ang panganib na maaring nitong likhain.

Sumabog ang Pinatubo, bumulwak ang lahar at naging disyerto ang maraming bayan sa Gitnang Luzon. Magiging malaki pa rin kaya ang pinsala kung maagang pinansin ang mga indikasyong malapit nang sumabog ang Pinatubo?

Ngayon ay nagigimbal tayo sa trahedyang sinapit ng mga kababayan natin sa Leyte.

Sabi ng mga environmentalist, maiiwasan sana ang maraming bilang ng mga nasawi kung may plano ang pamahalaan noon kung paano paghahandaan ang pagguho ng lupa sa St. Bernard dahil may gumuho ng lupa sa karatig na bayan nito.

Batid ng pamahalaan na isang posibilidad ang pagguho ng lupa sa St. Bernard lalo na’t ang pagdating ng La Nina sa bansa ay nangangahulugan ng malalakas na pagpatak ng ulan. Pero wala pa ring aksiyon o paghahanda. Tuloy ang ilegal na pangangahoy, tuloy ang pagmimina.

Bakit nga naman papansinin ang St. Bernard; ilan lang ba ang botante dito? Noon ay hindi rin pinansin ang silangang bahagi ng Pinatubo dahil ang matataong lugar lamang sa kanluran (sa panig ng Olongapo) ang binigyan ng prayoridad ng mga pulitiko.

Sanay na tayo sa mga kalamidad. Mahigit dalawampung bagyo taun-taon ang dumarating sa bansa at laging may panganib ng lindol o pagsabog ng bulkan. Pero bakit atrasado pa rin ang ating kasanayan at gamit upang paghandaan ang mga sakuna? Bakit daan-daan o libu-libo ang kailangang mamatay sa mga sakunang napakadali namang matukoy kung paano maiiwasan?

Kung tutuusin ay dapat tayong mga Pilipino ang may abanteng kaalaman, pananaliksik at instrumento ukol sa mga lindol, pagsabog ng bulkan at iba pang galaw sa kailaliman ng lupa.

Kaso imposible itong mangyari kung ang pamahalaan ay abala sa pagnanakaw ng pera ng bayan, pagbabayad ng utang sa banyaga at paghuhubog ng mga estudyanteng marunong magsalita ng “yes, ma’am” imbes na buhusan ng salapi ang pag-aaral at paglinang ng agham sa bansa.

Masyado tayong mayabang na nasa atin ang rekord ng pinakamaraming taong naghahalikan, pinakamalaking sisig, pinakamahabang linya ng nilutong bangus o talong at iba pang pakulo ng mga pulitiko samantalang hindi natin pinag-iisipan ang pagpapaunlad ng kasanayan kung paano magliligtas ng maraming buhay.

Oo na, lahi na tayo ng magagaling na boksingero at magagandang dilag pero pwede ba pagtuunan din natin ng pansin ang pagpapakahusay kung paano tayo aangkop sa mga baha, lindol, bagyo, pagguho ng lupa, atbp? Kahiya-hiya na sikat na arkipelago ang Pilipinas pero maraming barkong lumulubog dito. Kahiya-hiya na hinahayaan nating nakawin ng mga dayuhan ang ating yamang mineral dahil wala tayong alam kung paano gamitin ang ating likas na yaman sa pag-unlad.

Pwedeng sisihin si Gloria Arroyo kung bakit maraming namamatay sa sunud-sunod na trahedyang dumarating sa bansa. Sa kabila ng nangyari sa Aurora at Quezon noong 2004, tuloy pa rin ang pangangahoy. Sa kabila ng nangyari sa Marinduque at Rapu-Rapu, bukas pa rin ang bansa sa pagmimina.

At tulad ni George W. Bush na nalantad ang pagwaldas ng pera ng Amerika sa gera sa Iraq nang walang sapat na tulong na ibinigay sa mga nasalanta ng ipo-ipong Katrina, malalantad din ang mga hungkag na pulisiya ni Arroyo sa pananalapi, kalikasan at ekonomiya.

Related entries:

Preserve mineral wealth
Super republic
Milenyo aftermath

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The Politics of Lahar – unang aklat na binili ko sa UP Press noong 1996.

People’s Protocol on Climate Change

Thanks Erwin of Inquirer for writing about the Among Ed bloglaunch.

Go green? Go red! Save the environment by defeating imperialism. Do not just mitigate. Do not just adapt. Revolt!

Despite skepticism in certain quarters about the scientific basis of the global warming phenomenon, the issue has mobilized many institutions and individuals to address the deteriorating condition of the global ecosystem. Landmark initiatives were launched to combat global warming. In 1992 the Framework Convention on Climate Change was drafted. Then the succeeding Kyoto Protocol was signed to reduce global carbon emissions.

These efforts have failed to reverse global warming, however. Environmentalists are accusing rich countries like the United States of deliberately ignoring the Kyoto Protocol. But it is also reasonable to criticize the inadequate content and wrong framework of the climate change agreements.

Activist groups are pinpointing the failure of the Kyoto Protocol to include the concerns of the marginalized sectors in the world. They describe the Kyoto Protocol as a “false compromise” since it has not acknowledged the real roots of climate change – neoliberal globalization and the “mad pursuit” of transnational companies for profits.

Thus, the People’s Protocol on Climate Change was initiated. This is a global campaign that aims to provide a venue for grassroots participation in the process of drawing up a post-2012 climate change framework.

The proposal was conceived in Bangkok, Thailand, in October 2007. More than 170 participants in an environmental conference supported a resolution to launch a People’s Protocol on Climate Change. During the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bali, Indonesia, alternative workshops were held in East Java to gather more feedback about the proposed climate change agreement.

National and regional assemblies are to be held this year to reflect the demands and sentiments of the people on climate change. The People’s Protocol on Climate Change will be a key instrument for grassroots groups to pressure their governments at the global climate change negotiating table.

This document views the crisis as a social justice issue, and not merely an environmental problem. Global warming is rooted in the overexploitation of resources by northern nations and transnational companies. Or, as explained further in the preamble, “On one hand a privileged global elite engages in reckless profit-driven production and grossly excessive consumption. On the other hand, the mass of humanity is mired in underdevelopment and poverty with merely survival and subsistence consumption, or even less. The powerful industrialized nations of today were built on the severe exploitation of the human and natural resources of the global South. The pursuit of growth and profit is at the core of exploitation, structural poverty and global warming.”

The document notes the inherent conflict between the pronouncements of rich countries that they will curb harmful greenhouse emissions and the free trade agreements they are clinching with poor nations. This analysis is important since China, India and other emerging economies are often criticized today for their rising carbon emissions.

As correctly pointed out by the People’s Protocol, “We must acknowledge the role that Northern consumption plays in driving rapidly increasing Southern emissions. We recognize that a very significant part of supposedly Southern emissions actually result from the energy-intensive operations of Northern transnational companies located in the South for the purposes of exploiting local labor and natural resources.”

The People’s Protocol on Climate Change rejects market-led development as the solution to the global poverty crisis or climate change. It emphasizes the limitations of technological fixes in addressing the climate crisis if current levels of growth and consumption are maintained.

The alternative agreement proposes a paradigm shift away from market-based development models “which perpetuate the exploitation of people and the planet” toward people’s sovereignty over natural resources. The basic principle is to put the needs of the people and the planet above those of global capital.

The People’s Protocol on Climate Change recognizes that many communities around the world are dependent for their survival on their access to and use of natural resources. It is then vital that the specific needs of farming communities, indigenous peoples, coastal communities, and other rural producers should be given special attention in all adaptation efforts. In short, the marginalized peoples, rather than the big foreign companies, must have real access and control over the natural resources. This is the essence of the concept “people’s sovereignty over natural resources.”

The protocol wants rich countries to contribute more to the global mitigation fund. Transnational companies should increase “unconditional financial compensation to directly address the climate crisis in the South.”

Restorative justice is introduced, which requires “distribution of responsibility according to historical per capita emissions, not just on a by-country basis, but more significantly on a by-polluter basis.” Transnational companies, whether they are located in the North or South, must be compelled to pay for the damages they cause to the environment.

At a minimum, there should be an overhaul of international trade and investment rules to promote sustainable development. Production should be based on the actual needs of the people to reduce waste and over-consumption. This will then curb carbon emissions. Polluting industries should also not be transferred from the North to the South.

People’s lifestyles must change. Old habits and views that hurt the environment must be modified. Governments must act quickly by enjoining the support of their constituents, especially the marginalized sectors.

But we must not forget to grasp the bigger, harder and more important challenge: “Climate change crisis is not simply about adaptation and mitigation, but changing the whole economic framework into one of eco-sufficiency and sustainability.”

Related entries:

Coping with climate change
Waterless republic
Holiday trash

Alternative solutions to the oil crisis

Global oil prices will keep on rising even if supply remains stable. Oil prices are determined by intense speculation in the futures markets which have nothing to do with oil production. Everyday, speculators trade “paper barrels of oil” which influence oil prices in the spot market.

As a country dependent on oil imports, the Philippines should devise strategies on how to cope with rising oil prices. Removing the tax on petroleum products will give immediate but short-term relief. There should be alternative solutions to the looming oil crisis.

In response to the successive rounds of oil price hikes, left-leaning partylist groups have come up with concrete legislative proposals which can be adopted by the government. Unfortunately, their proposed measures were not included in Speaker Prospero Nograles’ social reform agenda.

Below are the house bills filed by partylist groups Bayan Muna, Gabriela and Anakpawis:

1. HB 1126 – Adding LPG and diesel to the Price Control Act
2. HB 1724 – Repealing the Oil Deregulation Law
3. HB 3029 – Regulating the downstream oil industry
4. HB 3030 – Mandating centralized procurement of oil
5. HB 3031 – Buying back Petron

A Petroleum Regulatory Council is proposed which will be composed of six persons from the private and public sectors. This body will monitor, regulate and hold hearings on oil and petroleum prices; maintain a comprehensive database on the industry; and manage the Oil Price Buffer Fund (OPBF).

The OPBF is for the "strict and unique purpose of cushioning the impact of frequent and drastic price fluctuations." To prevent abuse, the bill prohibits all other reimbursements from the OPBF and disallows the President from tapping the fund. After five years, the funds may be invested in secure instruments.

A National Petroleum Exchange Corporation will formulate the Centralized Petroleum Procurement Plan. It is proposed that this body will become subsidiary of the Philippine National Oil Company. This agency will determine the total oil requirements of the country and negotiate with oil suppliers for the best prices and terms. It will become the sole supplier in-charge of importation, storage, sale and distribution of all petroleum products in the country.

A centralized procurement will assure the public of steady and accessible supply of crude oil. This will also eradicate the practice of transfer pricing by greedy oil companies. Recently, President Arroyo ordered a centralized procurement of oil for the needs of government agencies. Why limit the scope of the directive to government agencies?

Renationalization of Petron Corporation makes a lot of sense. As early as 2004, Rep. Robert Barbers is proposing a buy-back of Petron.

Petron is the local market leader supplying more than one-third of the country’s petroleum needs. Petron has the biggest refining capacity in the country, operates the biggest local lubeoil blending plant and controls almost half of the LPG industry. The problem is that the government has sold 60 percent of Petron shares to private investors in 1994. The long-term welfare of Filipinos was sacrificed while multinational oil companies have been given more freedom to manipulate local oil prices.

The government needs to become a major player in the oil industry. Petron can become a “valuable government asset that can truly fulfill the responsibility of the state to ensure public welfare through fair and regulated prices.”

Renewable energy

Senator Edgardo Angara is urging the immediate passage of the Renewable Energy Act of 2008 which he believes is a "vital step towards the development of our country’s vast alternative energy resources that will eventually benefit both the present and future generation."

He noted that at least 56 countries, including 11 developing nations, have some type of renewable energy promotion policy.

A paper written by Dr. Ganni Tapang of Agham defined renewable energy as "energy sources that can be obtained from continuously recurring energy processes and cycles in the natural environment, including energy sources from waste materials and the technologies that utilize these energy sources."

Example of these are hydropower, solar energy, biomass energy (energy from waste materials), geothermal energy, wind energy, tidal power, wave tidal power, wave energy, ocean thermal energy, ocean thermal energy, fuel cells and energy, fuel cells and hydrogen technologies.

Dr. Tapang explained that geothermal power accounts for the country’s largest share of indigenous energy production, followed by hydropower, coal, oil and gas. In fact, The Philippines is the world’s second largest producer of geothermal power, after the United States.

Dr. Tapang also noted that the country has a good potential for wind energy applications. In 2003, a study identified 1,038 wind sites with a possible potential total of 7,404MW. The Department of Science and Technology estimates that wind resources could generate 70,000 MW of power.

Dr. Tapang added that with its extensive agriculture, livestock, and forestry activities, the Philippines has a significant biomass energy potential. Contributors to this biomass potential are fuelwood, bagasse, coconut residues, ricehull, animal waste and municipal solid wastes.

It is laudable that the government is pursuing projects that seek to tap the country’s vast potential in clean and renewable energy resources. This will reduce the country’s dependence on oil imports.

However, government should rethink the promotion of biofuels and jathropa production. This may worsen the hunger situation in the country as planting of food crops continue to decline.

Policymakers should also reverse the privatization of energy assets. It is in the long-term interest of Filipinos that the state should continue to manage the country’s power industries. What’s the use of promoting cheap and clean renewable energy resources when multinational greedy companies continue to dictate energy prices?

Related entries:

Coping with climate change
Zero VAT
Oil deregulation law
Stink republic

Handling torrents of holiday trash

A few days before Christmas, Philippines Environment Secretary Lito Atienza appealed to the public to reduce the garbage they would produce during the holiday season. He cited the findings of the National Solid Waste Management Council, which show that one person generates 0.7 kilo (1.5 pounds) of garbage on an average day, compared to a minimum of 1.2 kilos (2.6 pounds) during the holidays. In one public market in Manila, 30 truckloads of garbage, which is equivalent to 180 tons, are reportedly being collected daily.

Atienza was right to remind the public about the need to keep garbage at the minimum level during the holidays. Christmas may be a season of gift-giving and merrymaking but it is also notorious for inducing wild shopping sprees, conspicuous consumption, and trash production.

The mounting pile of junk in the streets during Christmas should remind the public and leaders as well about the seriousness of the garbage crisis in the Philippines. The problem is not just linked to holiday festivities or high population growth. It is aggravated by inadequate government programs and dwindling funds for waste management.

According to the environment agency, the Philippines produced 27,397 tons of garbage daily in 2003. Almost one-third of the garbage in the country came from Metro Manila. Production of industrial wastes and effluents is also causing water pollution. It is estimated that 2.41 million tons of hazardous materials are generated by more than 100,000 companies.

The garbage disposal system is very backward in urban centers, which clogs and pollutes canals and creeks. Flooding occurs in many areas of Metro Manila even during light rains because of uncollected garbage in the streets. This explains the persistent incidences of preventable diseases like bacterial infections, cholera, dysentery and dengue fever, which affect mainly children in urban poor communities.

The pathetic state of waste management in the country underscores the need for sound environment policies and laws. Yet the Philippines has legal instruments that cover garbage management. In fact, the fist law signed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo when she assumed the presidency in January 2001 was the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act.

This law obliges local governments to assume the main responsibility for disposing solid wastes through the program of "reduce, re-use and recycle." The law requires segregation of wastes, mandatory composting, recycling, a ban on disposable packaging materials, and the granting of incentives for the development of recycling markets and disposal of residual waste through the building of landfill facilities.

Like all good laws in the Philippines, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act is not implemented properly. According to green advocacy groups, only 700-1,000 communities (or less than two percent of the country’s 42,000 villages) practice the "reduce, re-use and recycle" program.

Corruption and petty politicking are disrupting waste management programs. Local leaders from nearby provinces are feuding over the ownership and division of royalties in disposing of Metro Manila’s garbage. One of the earlier corruption cases involving Arroyo was the controversial US$360 million incineration project with Australia-based Jancom Environmental Corporation. The project featured an overpriced dumping fee and guaranteed the sale of energy generated by the incinerated garbage to the government at a very high rate.

Recently, lawmakers exposed the distribution of obsolete medical incinerators in public hospitals which were purchased through a foreign loan.

Scientists insist that waste management should not be difficult in the Philippines. Because of its backward economy, more than half of the country’s solid waste composition is made up of yard, wood and kitchen wastes. In short, they are organic, biodegradable and recyclable.

But at the same time, the Philippines is highly dependent on imported manufacturing goods. This kind of trading produces a lot of waste. The government even signed a deal which would legalize the dumping of Japan’s toxic wastes in the Philippines.

The liberalization of the economy allowed the entry of multinational corporations, many of them focusing on resource extraction like mining. Without establishing modern waste management systems, the garbage generated from these economic activities will worsen urban congestion and the environmental woes of the country.

Implementing garbage laws and programs requires consistent funding. But government subsidies are inadequate to sustain delivery of services in communities. Waste management should not just be good laws. More importantly, it needs to be translated into public trash bins on every corner, garbage collection trucks, and the establishment of facilities for composting and recycling.

Public awareness and education campaigns are crucial. Many Filipinos still burn garbage in their backyards. Waste segregation should be practiced everywhere. There are residents who complain that they may segregate biodegradable and non-biodegradable wastes dutifully but when their garbage is collected, all the trash bins are thrown in only one container.

The Philippine garbage problem is alarming because of its negative impact on human settlements and the natural environment. The good news is that more and more people are recognizing the gravity of the problem. The garbage crisis can be solved if laws and programs are executed correctly. Government financial support is needed to improve waste management. Lifestyles need to change, corruption should be eliminated and leaders should have the proper attitude in dealing with the problem. In short, political will is needed to solve the garbage problem.

This is possible. Why are garbage collection trucks visible during Christmas season? Why can’t leaders guarantee this kind of performance throughout the year? If waste disposal remains problematic, children will continue to stalk and coerce pedestrians and fastfood customers into giving them empty plastic bottles which they will trade for a few pesos in a junk yard. Do we want children to handle our garbage?

Related entries:

Water runs dry
Preserve mineral wealth
Super cities

Green Christmas

Longest Christmas season in the world, my article for Global Voices. Check out the new blogs and websites in the Mongster Link section. Kabataan Partylist has a new address in cyberspace.

Christmas is a special day for many people. It’s about gift-giving, family togetherness, and love. It’s also about buying, selling, and consuming gifts, food and drinks. Christmas is the best friend of consumerism.

People, especially children, are seduced to buy commodities to feel the spirit of Christmas. Malls offer discount promos, stores give Christmas packages, and companies bless their employees with Christmas bonuses. The extra income is not wisely invested; instead it is immediately disposed to satisfy the craving to join others in “celebrating” Christmas.

The joy of Christmas prevents people from recognizing the poverty that engulfs the land. By January, people have less money to spare for their real needs. They begin to remember their meager salaries, rising cost of commodities, inefficient government services and corrupt practices of politicians.

Is this the reason why so many political upheavals in the country take place during the first quarter of the year? When people suddenly feel the economic crunch, they become agitated by starting to demand for reforms in policies and even a change of leadership.

What distinguishes Christmas this year from previous celebrations is the vibrant campaign to save the environment. Companies are going “green” these days. Stores are telling their customers to stop global warming. Green bags are distributed, green products are found in market stalls, and commodities made from organic materials are now accessible in malls.

Mankind is saved! Protect the environment by buying green stuff this Christmas.

Paraphrasing British novelist Anthony Trollope, these green merchants are pettifogging rascals. The goal should not be to entice people to buy green products but to persuade them to consume less. The authentic green message instructs people to buy and consume fewer products, whether organic or not.

Beware of companies adopting a “green” attitude in their sales pitch. This may be a deceptive campaign to lure shoppers to buy as many green products while making them feel less guilty of contributing to climate change.

There is another advisable approach to promote green living. Implement a ‘personal carbon indicator’ mechanism when shopping for groceries and other products.

Today, consumers are informed of the nutritional values of products. This guides them whether to buy a commodity which contains the right or dangerous amount of fats, carbohydrates, or protein. Customers can determine their possible calorie intake when buying products in supermarkets. This gave incentive to companies to improve the nutritional content of their commodities.

In the future, consumers should be informed about the level of carbon they will be emitting when buying a particular commodity. A product label should include information about the amount of carbon which was used, stored, and will be released to the environment in manufacturing and consuming the product. This will guide customers in making the right decision in buying products which may contribute to global warming in measurable indicators.

Am I dreaming of a green Christmas already?

Traffic and Christmas

Christmas is also associated with stress, garbage, and traffic. Traffic is heavy in major roads especially near malls, markets, churches and provincial bus terminals. Christmas traffic reinforces the urgency of improving mass transport systems in the urban centers of the country. Traffic accidents during Christmas, among other factors like bad roads, reveal the lack of discipline among drivers and their inadequate knowledge on traffic rules.

Road rage and reckless driving can be reduced if drivers are made to understand the punishment for violating traffic rules. They may be motivated to obey traffic rules if they know it will save them money. Below are some of the common sins committed by drivers and their corresponding fines as ordered by the Land Transportation Office.

Driving without license will cost a driver P750. This is different from failing to show or surrender a driver’s license (perhaps the driver left it at home) which will only cost the driver P150. Don’t forget to sign driver’s license since a policeman can charge you P150.

Those caught driving while under the influence of liquor or prohibited drug will be fined P2,000. A second offence will lead to one year suspension. A third offence will lead to the revocation of driver’s license.

Possession and use of fake driver’s license will cost P1500. The fine for allowing another person to use his/her driver’s license is P500. Student driver operating a vehicle without being accompanied by a licensed driver is a violation too. The driver has to pay P200.

Take good care of number plates. A fine of P150 will be charged against drivers operating vehicles with number plates not firmly attached and visible; dirty or uncared for plates; inconspicuously displaced plates in front and rear; and no sticker showing current registration.

Think twice before buying commemorative plates. Improper display of number plates to accommodate a better display of commemorative plates is equivalent to P500 worth of fine. Displaying expired commemorative plates will cost the driver P200.

Another incentive to keep car parts intact is the avoidance of paying the P150 fine for having vehicles with improper/defective horn or signaling device; missing or defective headlights/taillights; missing or red rear lights at both/each side visible at least 100 meters from vehicle; missing or defective plate light; missing or defective brake lights; and missing or defective wiper on the windshield.

Keep you cars beautiful and clean. Driving with dirty/unsightly or dilapidated vehicles is a traffic violation. Drivers will pay P150. In addition, plates will be confiscated until defects are corrected.

Driving without spare tire will cost the driver P150. Keeping unauthorized bell sirens or exhausts whistle on emergency has the same fine.

Parking skills need to be enhanced if you do not want to pay P150 for the following parking violations: parking within an intersection, parking on a crosswalk, parking within five meters of the intersection of curb lines, parking within four meters of the driveway entrance to any fire station, parking within four meters of a fire hydrant, parking in front of a private highway and parking at any place where official signs of prohibition have been erected.

Public utility vehicles should avoid these violations costing P150 each: allowing a passenger on top or cover of vehicle, allowing a passenger to ride on running board, step board or
mudguard of vehicle while it is in motion, disregarding traffic signs and failure to use helmet while driving/riding a motorcycle.

Driving in a place not for traffic, failure to give way to police or fire department vehicle or ambulance, and hitching or permitting a person on a bicycle or roller skates to hitch to the vehicle will cost the driver P100.

Driving against traffic or counterflow has a penalty of P2,000. A fine of P150 will be charged against drivers who committed illegal overtaking, failure to give way to an overtaking vehicle, increasing speed when being overtaken, overtaking at a railway grade crossing and overtaking at an intersection.

Be kind to a traffic enforcer sine he/she can charge you P150 for arrogance or discourtesy. Driving in slippers or sleeveless shirt is illegal too. The driver will have to pay P100.

Do you think the fines are too small? Do you think they can really threaten drivers? Traffic rules are promulgated in order to save lives and avoid road mishaps. The least drivers can do is obey these reasonable road rules. Gas prices are skyrocketing already. Drivers can save money by avoiding unnecessary fines.

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From Laoag to Laoang

Can organic farming save Philippine agriculture?

The Philippines used to have a robust agricultural sector. About two-thirds of the population and three-fourths of the poor depend on agriculture. But agricultural productivity has been declining over the years. Government expenditures to improve rural welfare have been decreasing as well. Incomes of farmers are down, peasant communities are impoverished and landlessness remains a social justice issue.

The government’s land reform program is about to expire next year yet vast landholdings throughout the country remain in the hands of very few landlord families. Liberalization of the agriculture industry destroyed the livelihood of millions of small farmers. The dumping of cheaper imported farm products in the local market aggravated poverty in the countryside. The communist insurgency in the provinces is fueled mainly by widespread peasant discontent.

There are proposals to extend the land reform program. Peasant groups are asking for a balanced, sustainable and pro-poor trade policy. Addressing rural development should guarantee farmers access to basic services, credit, technology, organization and entrepreneurship training. The government can also consider promoting organic agriculture to raise agricultural earnings in the country.

Civil society organizations define organic agriculture as "an agricultural production system that promotes environmentally, socially and economically sound production of food and fibers and excludes the use of synthetically compounded fertilizers, pesticides, growth regulators, livestock feed and additives and genetically modified organisms." The Codex Alimentarius recognizes this kind of farming as "an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity."

Organic agriculture promotes the principles of health, ecology, fairness and care. According to the Philippine Development Assistance Program, organic agriculture is now part of the development agenda with growing recognition from stakeholders, the government and the private sector. It is also perceived as an effective and sustainable approach to food security, proper nutrition, income generation and resource management.

Aside from enhanced consumer awareness on the benefits of natural and healthy products, there is a big market for organic agriculture. The Philippines exported US$2.5 million worth of organic products in 1999, $6.2 million in 2001 and $10 million in 2003. According to the Department of Trade and Industry, organic agriculture is growing by 10-15 percent every year.

The Philippines can aim for more share of the world market. Organic agriculture trading in the world is increasing by 20-30 percent every year. Retail sales for organic products amounted to US$11 billion in 1998 and $17 billion in 2002 and they are projected to reach $100 billion in 2008.

The most popular organic products in the Philippines are bananas, beef, mangoes, muscovado sugar, papayas, peanuts, poultry, soya milk, vegetables from the uplands, yellow corn and rice.

Organic rice is produced in 19 provinces covering 15,000 hectares of farmland, with the potential for 39,000 hectares more of planting area. Production costs are 20-40 percent lower than traditional farming and net income is 10-30 percent higher. Productivity for converted farms ranges from 4-6 tons versus the national average of 3.5-4 tons. Metro Manila consumed 200 sacks per month in 2001 which increased to 1,500 sacks in 2006.

Muscovado sugar is exported to Europe, the United States and Japan. From 2000-2004, the Philippines earned US$6 million through trade in muscovado sugar alone.

Seaweed is another major organic product produced by the Philippines. The island of Sitangki in southern Philippines has 10,000 hectares of production area with potential of 60,000 hectares more for seaweed extraction. Seaweed trading in Sitangki is estimated at more than US$2 million per month.

The good news is that the Department of Agriculture drafted an Organic Agriculture Policy in 2003 and the Implementing Rules and Regulations were promulgated last year. The bad news is that there is no budget allocation to promote organic farming.

The Congress, aside from enacting a genuine land reform program, should also prioritize funding support for organic agriculture. PDAP recommends more investments in post-harvest processing, packaging and technology diffusion. Local governments must build the capacity to increase consumer awareness. An agriculture micro-finance policy can be implemented to benefit small farmers. Academic institutions can spearhead initiatives through research and development programs. Organic agriculture can be included in the curriculum.

Organic agriculture is not the magic pill that will eliminate poverty in the country. But it can increase farmers’ income and "help restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony." Organic agriculture will not solve hunger but it can be a key component to realize food sustainability. Organic agriculture trading will not make the Philippines an economic superpower but it can help revive agriculture productivity.

The noble goals of organic agriculture will become meaningless if the program will yield a large profit for a few individuals or groups at the expense of small farmers. The government must promote organic agriculture to improve the countryside and raise the quality of living of farmers.

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On fishy waters

Extreme weather events alarm the public, my blog entry for Global Voices. New pictures in my photoblog. I added new blogs and websites in the Mongster Link. Visit Yehey! News.

We associate global warming with either drought or super typhoons. We highlight the dwindling clean water supply and low agricultural output. We need to cite another important resource which is under threat: fisheries.

Sixty percent of the population resides in coastal areas. Demersal fishing areas are estimated at 224,434 km2. From 583,785 municipal and commercial fishing operators in 1980, the figure rose to 1.49 million in 2002, most of which were municipal fishers. Approximately 2.37 million people currently depend on municipal fishing as primary source of livelihood.

Fish contributes 22.4 percent of the total protein intake of the average Filipino. GDP contribution amounted to 2.3 percent in 2004. Fisheries accounted for 24.85 percent of the total agricultural production also on the same year.

The Philippines is the second biggest producer of aquatic plants (includes seaweeds), eleventh in world aquaculture production of fish, crustaceans and mollusks and eigth in top fish producing countries. Philippine coral reefs rank second to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in diversity of reef fish. Its seagrass communities are considered the most diverse in the Asia-Pacific region.

Biologists have identified twenty-five biodiversity hotspots in the planet “that are exceptionally rich in endemic species but increasingly threatened by human activity.” The Philippines is among these. For example, 32 percent of coral reefs are in poor condition. Of the 439 marine protected areas, only 10 percent is achieving habitat protection. Mangrove forests, which serve as fish nurseries, are overharvested. Today only 20 percent of the country’s original mangrove forest remains intact.

All major bays and gulfs in the Philippines are heavily exploited (read: overfished). The important fishing bays include the Manila Bay, Visayan Sea, Carigara Bay, Burias Pass, Samar, San Miguel Bay, Guimaras Strait, Ragay Gulf, Maqueda Bay, Honda Bay, Leyte Gulf and Illana Bay. We may have the sixth longest coastline in the world but it does not translate to unlimited marine resources.

What are some of the factors which caused the depletion of marine fishery resources? We can identify poaching, intrusion in prohibited fishing areas, conversion of fisheries habitats into other uses, pollution and siltation, red tide, use of fish aggregation devices, catching of immature/ juvenile fish, use of illegal and destructive fishing methods and increased use of fine mesh nets to catch fish including mosquito net. We can also blame the trade policy of allowing bigger and better-equipped foreign fishing boats which compete with municipal fishers in exhausting marine fish supply in the country.

There seems to be abundant laws and regulations to protect marine wealth. We have the Fisheries Code of 1998, Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act of 1997, Local Government Code of 1991, National Integrated Protected Areas System Act and the Environmental Impact Statement system. Are these laws implemented properly? Is there an overlap of policies between different national and local agencies? Is the funding adequate for the fisheries sector? Does the government recognize the deteriorating state of fisheries resources?

Our notion of an impoverished agricultural worker is limited to a burly landless peasant toiling in the fields all day. Fishing is the other face of agriculture. Reduced fish catch means reduced contribution to the economy. We tend to overlook the sad plight of small fishers. We ignore the poverty which is also prevalent in the coastal areas.

Coastal hapitats need to be protected and rehabilitated. Conflicting fisheries laws should be harmonized. Small fishers, especially the women, need to be given alternative livelihoods. Fishing communities need to be aware of the endangered condition of our marine resources. Can the government realign a portion of the emergency assistance funding for farmers to municipal fishers?

We may be a nation of 7,107 islands surrounded by bodies of water but this will mean nothing if there is no more fish supplies to catch. Oh what tragedy if someday the Philippines will have to import fishes from its neighbors.

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Coping with climate change

Scientists have predicted that there will be an average increase of +2 degrees Celsius in the world. In 2004, South Cotabato registered the third warmest year on record. Global warming, not terrorism, is the single biggest threat to the future of mankind. Are we aware of the negative impact of climate change to our local ecosystem?

Environmentalist group Greenpeace has a study which provides a detailed report on the vulnerabilities of Philippine provinces. Below are highlights of the report:

Global warming will lead to coral bleaching, sea level rise and extreme weather events such as long periods of drought and severe typhoons.

Coral bleaching will affect livelihood of more than a million fishers in the country. It will also destroy the country’s diverse marine ecosystem which is considered the second largest coral cover in the world.

A one meter rise in sea level is projected to affect 16 regions, 64 out of 81 provinces, at least 703 out of 1,610 municipalities, inundate almost 700 million square meters of land and threaten 36,289 kilometers of coastline. In Sulu, the vulnerable areas may reach up to 7,972.83 hectares. In Palawan, the land area at risk covers 6,428.16 hectares.

The Legazpi mudslide triggered by typhoon Reming was the second deadliest disaster of 2006 in the world. Six out of nine tragedies from 1991 to 2006 occurred at provinces which are highly at risk to typhoons and variability in precipitation. These provinces also have a high poverty incidence rating. Poor provinces are less prepared to cope with the harsh impacts of natural disasters.
In 2006, natural calamities affected eleven million Filipinos. Economic losses reached P20 billion. Assistance and donations amounted to 500 million while rehabilitation cost is P10 billion. Greenpeace is correct when it opined that “the true cost of tragedies is not limited to economic losses but also lives lost, families displaced and ecosystems damaged.”

Greenpeace is recommending adaptation and mitigation measures to avert the worst impacts of climate change. Adaptation measures include programs such as “comprehensive vulnerability assessment and hazard mapping, efficient disaster preparedness and management, modern forecasting capabilities and sustained programs to raise awareness.”

Greenpeace is calling for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent in 2050. This means the Philippines must switch from fossil fuel dependence to renewable energy. Energy efficiency measures must be promoted. The Philippines’ wind power potential – 70,000 MW – can meet the country’s current energy demand seven times over. Greenpeace claims that the energy from the sun that falls on half the land area of Quezon City can provide the power needs of the entire country for a day.

During her recent State of the Nation Address, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo vowed to push for renewable sources of energy. She mentioned the wind farm in Ilocos Norte but she also reported the construction of three coal-fired power plants in the country. The irony was not lost on worried environmentalists.

Policymakers need to tap clean sources of energy without compromising food sufficiency. Enactment of the Biofuels Law may reduce dependence on imported oil but it will also consume vast amounts of land which could have been used for food production. Government needs to harmonize food and energy needs of the country.

I laud the decision of the President to include climate change in school curriculum. But the President sent a wrong message to students by appointing politicians and bureaucrats in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Department of Energy. Mayor Lito Atienza and General Angelo Reyes are not recognized for their expertise on environment and energy. The President’s allies in the Lower House also nominated Representatives Iggy Arroyo and Mikey Arroyo as committee heads of the environment and energy sectors. Is the President really aware of the urgency of the situation? Is she really concerned with the negative consequences of global warming? Or is she more eager on how her family and closest allies can profit from the environment crisis?

In the future, I believe we will have to vote for leaders who have theoretical and practical knowledge on how to adapt with the deteriorating state of our fragile environment. At present and in the next elections, we have to endure the false claims of leaders that they are prepared to handle the worst impacts of natural disasters.

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