DENR holds national forum on rivers,highlights need for clean water supply and availability

More than a hundred participants representing water stakeholders from both public and private sectors attended the one-day National Forum on the State of Rivers in the Philippines held Monday (March 14, 2011) at the Sulo Riviera Hotel in Quezon City.

Organized by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the forum highlighted the national celebration of March 14 as the International Day of |Action for Rivers, with the local theme:  “Save Philippine Rivers”.  It also served as a venue for consultation with the various stakeholders on the protection, rehabilitation, conservation and governance of the country’s rivers and river basins. 

DENR Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje called the event “timely” in light of the devastating earthquake which hit Japan recently, and which brought to fore problems in water supply for badly hit areas. 

In his keynote speech, Paje lamented the people’s low regard in managing the  country’s water resources. “At any given time, the country has 146 billion cubic meters of water available, yet we are treating it like a free resource… we are throwing water away by the second, and we are not managing it properly,” Paje said.

Paje also underscored that despite the abundance of water in the Philippines, not  much of it is available for public consumption because of problems in “catching” and “keeping” the water such as through water impounding systems; lack of infrastructure, especially for irrigation; and pollution of water bodies. 

Paje said addressing such issues would enable the country “to release water at the proper time and proper place, when we need it,” especially during disasters and calamities, as he called on the people to help protect the country’s rivers and river basins, which are considered the “bloodstream of society” supporting life of communities surrounding them.

A river basin is a portion of land that drains to a large river with an estuary or ocean as a final destination. The country has 421 principal river basins, with 20 major river basins having a drainage area of more than 1,000 square kilometers. Yet, a rapidly growing population resulting in increased economic activity and water pollution are putting stress on water resources, prompting the DENR to call for action amid a threat of scarcity of freshwater. 

The DENR is initiating or collaborating with other government agencies a line-up of events to bring more attention to the need for sustainable water management. These include the Pasig River Fluvial Parade in Manila (March 15); Walkthrough and Boat Ride at Estero de Paco and Estero de San Miguel in Manila (March 16); Water Trail in Quezon City to be led by water concessionaires (March 21); Filipinos Walk for Watert, which is a local version of the Worldwide Walk for Water, and Executive-Legislative Dialogue on Water with President Aquino at SM Mall of Asia, and Symposium on Best Practices on Water at Micro Tel near SM-MOA, all on March 22 in celebration of World Water Day;  Water Quality Management Area Forum at Richmond Hotel, Quezon City (March 24); and river cleanup of Estero dela Reina/Tullahan in Gagalangin, Tondo (March 25).

World Water Day is celebrated every March 22.  This year’s theme is “Water for Cities: Responding to the Urban Challenge”, which aims to spotlight and encourage governments, organizations, communities and individuals to actively engage in addressing challenges of water management in urban areas. 

Guidelines for National Greening Program out

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has released the guidelines on the implementation of the National Greening Program which seeks to plant 1.5 billion trees in 1.5 million hectares nationwide in six years, from 2011 to 2016.

DENR Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje issued  DENR Memorandum Circular (MC) No.  2011-01, providing for the mechanics and specific targets of the National Greening Program. 
Under Executive Order No. 26, President Benigno S. Aquino III tasked the DENR to lead in the implemention of NGP. 

“The guidelines were crafted in such manner as to ensure that all greening activities, whether by the government, local government units or by the private sector, will contribute to the objectives of the program like poverty reduction, food security, biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation and adaptation,” Paje said.

According to Paje, the program calls for massive participation not only in tree planting but also in plantation maintenance and seedling production by all sectors of the Philippine society.  Hence, he said, the memorandum circular will serve to guide NGP partners-implementers in planning for their involvement in the program. 

Of the 1.5 million hectares targetted for reforestation under the NGP, Paje said that a total of 100,000 hectares are targetted for this year.  “We are starting this year with at least 100,000 hectares of new plantations.  This will be increased to 250,000 hectares next year, and further increased in the years ahead until we meet the programmed target as directed by President Aquino.”

This year’s target areas for reforestation include 60,000 hectares within community-managed forestlands including mangroves and coastal areas; 20,000 hectares within protected areas; 20,000 hectares in ancestral domain domain areas; and 10,000 hectares in other areas specifically described in EO 26, such as civil  and military reservations, urban areas identified by local government units, riverbanks and streambanks, and inactive and abandoned mines. 

In consonance with the thrust of the government for food security,  Paje said that aside from forest tree species, fruit-bearing trees will also be allowed to be planted under the program, sunch as mango, coffee, cacao, cashew, guyabano and many more.  

Forest tree species identified for planting in the uplands include dipterocarps, narra and other premium and indigenous species, as well as fast growing species such as mahogany, gmelina, bagras, acacia and rubber.  Bamboos and mangrove species shall also be tapped as reforestation crops particularly in river banks and coastal areas to control soil erosion and as buffer against wave action.

To ensure the survival of newly planted seedlings, Paje said that under MC 2011-01, the DENR field offices are to ascertain that there are stakeholders present living in areas  to be placed under NGP activities.

“This addresses the gap in many reforestation schemes that seedlings die within the immediate period because they were planted in areas where there are no stakeholders to tend to them and would directly benefit from the trees,” Paje said.

For community-managed  forest lands, preference will be given to areas that have accesibility to planters and market-destinations for the produce to be harvested from the trees when already bearing their fruits or by-products like bamboos and rattan.

The existence of peoples’ organizations (POs) that have “active registration status with relevant government organizations such as the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Cooperative Development Authority will also be prioritized, otherwise, the DENR shall assist POs in acquiring the necessary accreditation.

Paje also stressed that barangay officers will be tapped in the identification and selection of areas and sites “for consideration of DSWD in the grant of incentives to qualified NGP beneficiaries under the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program.” 

MC 2011-11 sets the months from July to December for the planting season  “following the respective climatic types, planting calendars of forest and fruit trees species and prevailing and forecasted weather conditions by PAGASA, for higher survival of the planted seedlings.” 

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