Environment Secretary Ramon J.P. Paje has announced that the government, through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), will earmark some P347 million for the restoration of mangrove and natural beach forests in coastal areas battered by Super Typhoon Yolanda.
Paje said this massive coastal rehabilitation program shall cover worst-hit areas in the Eastern Visayas region, particularly the province of Leyte and its capital Tacloban City.
“Tacloban is a major concern given its being a major population center, but the undertaking will cover practically the entire eastern seaboard of Eastern Visayas,” Paje said.
He said the main objective is to restore the region’s degraded coastal forests to make its coastlines less vulnerable to extreme weather events.
“It is clear in the law that we cannot allow people to build houses in areas for mangroves and beach forest,” said Paje, referring to Presidential Decreee No. 1067, also known as the Philippine Water Code.
Article 51 of said water code states that “banks of rivers and streams and the shores of the seas and lakes throughout their entire length and within a zone of three meters in urban areas, 20 meters in agricultural areas and 40 meters in forest areas, along their margins are subject to the easement of public use in the interest of recreation, navigation, floatage, fishing and salvage.”
Paje said the situation in Leyte and in Eastern Visayas “necessitates a display of political will from their local government officials to restore their mangrove areas and beach forests,” said Paje, noting that the affected coastlines were once mangroves and beach forest areas but were converted mostly into settlement areas by informal settlers or for development activities.
“Had the mangroves in Leyte and Eastern Samar not been decimated, the storm surge in those areas would have been dissipated by 70 to 80 percent of its strength,” explained Paje, citing a study by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) which indicates that the “strength of an eight- meter storm surge is concentrated within the lower six meters with the upper two meters as only having tidal currents.”
“The surge can only destroy the leaves, but it cannot uproot the mangroves because they are so deep- rooted and strong that they will regrow in time,” said Paje. He also stressed that mangroves are natural barriers against tsunamis, storm surge and other wave action, and therefore, should not be destroyed.
Under the plan, some 19 million seedlings and propagules from mangrove trees and beach forest species like Talisay will be planted over 1,900 hectares of coastline under the National Greening Program.
According to Paje, about 80 percent of the allocation will be used for the government’s cash-for-work program for typhoon survivors, who will take part in seedling production, planting site preparation, actual planting and maintenance of mangrove and beach forest areas.
“Restoring the coastal forests in Eastern Visayas will set the foundation for the reconstruction and recovery of both coastal communities and urban areas in the province,” Paje explained. “We will design it properly and have it approved by concerned local government units.”
The environment chief said that the establishment of “coastal green belts” will be done in clusters to allow fisher folk access to the shorelines, as well as other sustainable activities like ecotourism and coastal management.
He said the budget proposal is awaiting approval by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA).
Earlier, President Benigno Aquino III directed Paje to devise a comprehensive environment protection program to minimize the impact of storm surges, flooding and calamities following Yolanda’s devastation.
Other areas covered by the coastal rehabilitation plan are Dulag town in Leyte; municipalities of Guiuan, Llorente and Balangiga in Eastern Samar. #