DENR: Tackling air pollution, solid waste woes a priority

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has assured the public that it is doing its best to tackle air pollution and solid waste problems, consistent with President Rodrigo Duterte's "pro-environment and pro-people" agenda.

DENR Undersecretary for Policy, Planning and International Affairs Jonas Leones said that while the department had already put in place clear policies to address those two major environmental issues, a more concrete and decisive measures can be expected under the leadership of Secretary Roy A. Cimatu.

Soon after he was appointed by President Duterte to the DENR last May, Cimatu, a former Armed Forces chief, promised that full and strict implementation of laws on clean air, clean water and solid waste management will be on top of his priorities.

Prior to Cimatu's appointment, Leones noted that the DENR already finished installing several air quality monitoring stations, which are capable of measuring air pollutants, all over the country.

"The DENR's Environmental Management Bureau is now equipped with air monitoring equipment and a laboratory capable of detecting and analyzing toxic gas emissions, such as dioxins and furans," Leones said.

Dioxins and furans are environmental pollutants that have highly toxic potential. Dioxins are largely by products of industrial processes and are tagged as unwanted by-products of manufacturing processes usually involving combustion.

Solid and hospital wastes are often worst sources of dioxin released to the environment due to their incomplete burning.

At the same time, Leones said the DENR has been actively implementing its waste to energy (WTE) policy.

In fact, he said the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC) issued last year the guidelines governing the establishment and operation of WTE technologies for municipal solid wastes, as contained in NSWMC Resolution No. 669.

The guidelines stipulate compliance with Presidential Decree No. 1586 or the Environmental Impact Statement System Law; Republic Act No. 8749 or the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999; RA 9275 or the Clean Water Act; RA 6969 or the Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Act; and RA 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000.

"Given the provisions of these laws, we can expect that all bases are covered in terms of solid waste management," Leones said.

To enable the country comply with global emissions standards, Leones said the DENR undertakes a technical cooperation project with the Japanese government on the use of advanced WTE technologies, through thermal processes that eliminate incinerators. The cities of Quezon, Cebu and Davao have been chosen as pilot sites for the project.

According to Leones, the DENR has also taken strides in going after local government units (LGUs), which are remiss in their duty to enforce RA 9003.

"We have already filed with the Office of the Ombudsman cases against 50 LGUs and evaluated 100 others for their failure to implement RA 9003," he said.

RA 9003 specifically mandates all, especially the local government units (LGUs), to adopt a systematic, comprehensive and ecological solid waste management program that would ensure the protection of public health and environment.
It directs LGUs to utilize environmentally sound methods; set targets and guidelines for solid waste avoidance and reduction; and ensure proper segregation, collection, transport and storage of solid waste; among others.
Leones also mentioned the firm stand taken by the DENR on the return of Canada's waste shipments, which were rotting in Manila's ports.
This led the Manila regional trial court to order the return what remains of the 50 container vans of mixed garbage from Canada at the cost of the importer. Canada eventually agreed to accept the waste.
As an offshoot of the Canadian waste issue, the DENR, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Bureau of Customs have agreed to intensify collaboration and improve regulations against imported waste to prevent a repeat of the incident. ### 

DENR bats for alulod system, other rain harvesting methods to avert water crisis

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has underscored the need to intensify promotion of rain harvesting methods, including catching rainwater through house gutter or alulod for non-potable household use, to help avert potential serious water shortage in the next few years.

The DENR made the proposal during the conclusion of the series of meetings in preparation for a multi-sectoral water summit to be held anytime this year. The pre-summit meetings, totaling seven, were geared toward developing a national water roadmap to be presented to President Rodrigo Duterte during the actual summit.

At the final pre-summit meeting held at Crowne Plaza Hotel in Ortigas complex on July 12, DENR Assistant Secretary for Policy and Planning Service Corazon Davis said the department, through the National Water Resources Board (NWRB), was committed to come up with strategic solutions to the looming water crisis in the country.

Davis noted that upon his assumption to office last May, DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu made it clear that the full implementation of the country's clean water laws would be one of his top priorities to ensure improved water quality in major water bodies, such as Laguna Lake, Pasig River and Manila Bay.

"Although the Philippines is known for its abundant water resources, we are now experiencing scarcity of water due to rapid urbanization, increasing population, indiscriminate use and management of waste, and water pollution," Davis told pre-summit meeting participants from various government agencies and the private sector.

While water scarcity has been a long-standing issue, Davis said "our ancestors have always managed to find a way around it" and one of the practical and reliable methods they used at home was the alulod water collection system.

Under this traditional system, people harvest rainwater by simply placing a drum or basin at the end of the alulod for domestic uses like flushing the toilet, watering the garden and washing clothes. It does not cover supply for drinking, food preparation or personal hygiene.

"Modern Filipino homes may be worth re-designing using alulods again," Davis said. "During the old days, the old folks use alulod to collect rainwater and divert it into the banga or the tapayan where it is stored for future use."

This proposal is consistent with one of the recommendations during the pre-summit meetings, which is to ensure increased rainwater harvesting through strong and innovative government regulations.

Examples of these regulations are the introduction of a new provision in the building code that would require rainwater harvesting system for new buildings, and mandating all government offices to use only water efficient structures like waterless urinals and shower facilities, which will catch the used water for re-channeling functions like toilet flushing.

NWRB Executive Director Sevillo David Jr., meanwhile, said there is a need to review the government's water catchment strategies.

"We will have to increase our strategies so that rainwater can be useful, instead of letting it flow back to the sea. Once we had the water stored in the catchment, people can use the water in a number of beneficial ways," David pointed out.

The DENR has long been pushing for the establishment of smaller water impounding dams in upstream portions of the country to serve as an immediate solution to flood disasters and to enable irrigation in downstream areas during the dry season.

To prevent further damage to the country's water resources, the DENR is intensifying its massive reforestation program in watershed areas.

The agency is currently reviewing the policies in implementing the National Greening Program to encourage farmers into planting more trees to bolster water security in the country. By planting trees, farmers can install water impounding areas on their farmlands and replenish the aquifers.

The pre-summit meetings were organized by the NWRB, in partnership with the Congress, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry and various government agencies, including the Office of the Cabinet Secretary, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Public Works and Highways.

The Water Roadmap and Summit Tripartite Convenors, led by Senator Loren Legarda, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, and University of the Philippines Los Baños, are pushing for various ways to avert a potential water crisis in the country, including the creation of an apex body that will unify 30 water-related agencies, in addition to a separate strong regulatory body.

According to the Annual Poverty Indicators Survey in 2014, 15 million Filipinos still have to rely on unsafe water for their everyday drinking, cooking, and hygiene needs. In May 2016, a total of 18 provinces have remained under a state of calamity due to El Niño, which caused severe water shortages and reportedly destroyed P6 billion worth of crops in the Philippines. ### 

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