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Poor air quality, polluted rivers, garbage woes and dwindling forest cover were among the environmental problems that the government will try to resolve during the rehabilitation of Baguio City, according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu said the agency has identified six areas of concern that need to be addressed in order to restore Baguio City’s reputation as “mountain paradise.” These are air quality, water quality of rivers, solid waste management, forest cover, traffic congestion, and proliferation of informal settlers and illegal structures.

“We are looking to improve these areas, which have deteriorated drastically during the past few decades,” Cimatu said.

Cimatu also cited a study by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) indicating that the most critical urban carrying capacity indicators that need to be considered in the city are road length and area, solid waste collection, water supply, liquid waste treatment capacity, forest cover, and urban land for construction and development.

“We deem these factors as critical because the NEDA also estimates that the population in the country’s summer capital will soar up to 530,990 by 2045,” the DENR chief pointed out.

Urban carrying capacity is defined as the maximum level of human activities, population growth, land use and physical development that can be sustained by urban environment without causing its serious degradation and irreversible damage.

Cimatu said that drastic measures are necessary to tackle air pollution in Baguio City, which in 2014 topped the list of the World Health Organization (WHO) Study on Ambient Air Pollution with the most polluted air in the Philippines with Particulate Matter 2.5 (PM 2.5) at 49 micrograms per cubic meter.

“Baguio City’s air quality is troubling because there are more than 2,000 deaths related to air pollution from 2015 to 2019,” Cimatu said, citing data from the local government.

Cimatu said the DENR is also eyeing the rehabilitation of Balili and Bued rivers, which coliform levels are even worse than that of the Manila Bay.

He said the DENR is also looking forward to the conversion of the Irisan dumpsite into an ‘Environmental-Friendly Eco-Park.’. The dumpsite was temporarily shut down last year following the visit of DENR Undersecretary for Solid Waste Management and Local Government Units Concerns Benny D. Antiporda, who found it to be operating as an open dumpsite, which is strictly prohibited under Republic Act 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000.

Last year, Cimatu ordered his field officials to saturate Baguio with pine trees and restore its reputation as the “City of Pines” after he noticed the “balding” mountain city.

He also ordered the conduct of an ecosystems research to extend the life of the Benguet pine tree species.

Cimatu also considered restricting construction along the city slopes to prevent landslides.###