maandag 11 mei 2009

Thank You so much!

Thank you very much Jing Munoz of Colonial Grill, Legazpi (Albay district)! You and your crew have helped us SO much with translating the survey into Bikol. And that at the very last minute... Once again this is excellent proof of the friendliness of the people here and the will to help make a change. Yes, we can! 

maandag 4 mei 2009

Interview with Engr. Macario Pavia, Provincial Planning Development Coordinator

What is the influence of disasters on regional planning? 

A regional plan consists of several aspects like a health plan, social welfare, etc. Disaster Risk Reduction fits into the overall plan in a similar way.  

What do you think about the discovered expansion of the city (north and west) as opposed to the south?

It is understandable that people keep on going there, for the existing settlements have been there for a long time. The disaster risk used to be smaller and people tend to accept that risk. Now it is difficult to move the people elsewhere, even if the risk is increasing.  Many of them only live for today and do not think about the future.

The development to the south should be encouraged and it could become part of the provincial plan. One element of the plan is GUICADALE (Guinobatan, Camalig, Daraga, Legazpi). We intend to encourage developments to the south of these cities, supported by an international airport.  

Is this part of the Naga - Legazpi growth corridor in the regional plan submitted by the NEDA (National Economic Development Agency)?

Not really, that plan is a bit outdated. It focussed on linear development along the national hihway. Now we are developing roads perpendicular to that. The GUICADALE area is in the crossroads of the whole Bicol region and could serve as a centre.  

What is the role of Legazpi in all this?

Legazpi should invest in protective constructions. Along the riverbanks for instance. And they should build resettlements before the disasters hit in stead of after. 

Mr. Daep suggested buying potential victims out in stead of spending money on resettlements. What do you think about that strategy?

The first problem is money, where would we get it from? And secondly, what will happen to the vacant lands? If it is owned by the government, you can be sure that squatters will settle there. That has happened to all the other government owned land. The government can’t do anything about it, for it would be to harsh to kick them away and by not addressing the problem, it doesn’t become one. If it would be addressed however, who would have the funds to solve it? 

The squatters do not care if they live on potential hazardous locations. Once again, they only live for today and they are happy if they can get some food and drink. One day they are happy and the next they are sad...that is the way their lives are. 

woensdag 29 april 2009

Interview with Cedric Daep, Provicial Disaster Coordinator

What is the influence of the PDCC on regional planning? 

We get risk info from different sources, indicate risk zones, make policies to avoid investment in those zones, make maps about this, plan investments.

Participation of smaller scales (cities, communities)is necessary...

What are the different scenario’s?

We are familiar with the threats of the volcano. There are flood prone area’s along the coast and Yawa river... Many squatters reside here. Then there is an earthquake problem with the squatters. They have built on swamplands, without approved constructions and poor foundations.

Best would be to regulate land elevation constructions within building code. Like Pacific Mall did (after consultation with the PDCC), no damage.

What do you think about the discovered expansion of the city (north and west) as opposed to the south?

The expansion towards the north is concerning. Regional expansion is planned to the south - west of Daraga, Camalig, etc. With a new international airport, perpendicular roads (national government funding) and other incentives. 10-20 year projections. This will bring livelihoods to the south of Legazpi (where most of the resettlement area’s are now).

Legazpi can not grow in that direction, (the west) what will happen?

Legazpi might shrink... If the mayor of Daraga is an aggressive developer, Daraga will make Legazpi look small.

So what should Legazpi do?

Slow down new investments, especially in risk area’s. Someone should overlay a risk map over the city. (At this point we showed him our work on that. ed.)Relocate the Regional Offices to safer locations, invest in protective civil works, like dykes along the river. This last point is the main recommendation.

What and how is the cooperation with NGO’s? 

We work with the bigger NGO’s (IFRC, World Vision, Committee on Migration, Agencia Espanyola, a Japanese governmental agency). We are looking for long term commitments, UNDP is planning resettlements in Legazpi now. We provide them with information and they provide us with info and help.

What is your relation to resettlement area’s?

We provide certifications, after the city has pointed out locations. These certifications are a obligation. The cities plan the area’s according to the land available within the city limits. Landownership can be quite a struggle...After that we help the NGO’s with aiding in the form of shelter. I have a strategy for resettlement... In stead of providing shelter, we should buy up the lots and land in risk area’s and let people decide where to move with that money. That way they can look for their own livelihoods. Obviously money is a problem here...

Previously Legazpi has indicated economic growth zones to the South, near Banquirohan resettlement site, but these never took of. It seems that development to the south is destined to fail?

First we need to invest in roads, water, electricity. These are the main catalysts for development, as you can see on the maps. We are trying to catch up with these issues, but here in the Philippines development is slow and we have other priorities. Once basic infra is available, then can we provide incentives and will investors move to these area’s.     

woensdag 22 april 2009

Holy week, volcanic energy, city plans and fishing

Holy Week (from Palm Sunday to Easter) is a big thing in the Philippines, comparable with Christmas. Every year messages reach the rest of the world newspapers when volunteers let themselves be nailed to the cross on Good Friday. This year an Australian national covered the front pages, taking part in this real life reenactment of the Crucifixion. Thank God these extreme testimonies are restricted to certain area's on mainland Luzon. Most cities hold a procession with statues of Christ. People go barefoot and some will inflict a litlle self penance, which apparently looks worse than it is because people use razorblades to cut themselves before the procession to increase the amount of blood. The statues are no Michelangelo's, but you will be able to find many pieta-remakes. During the Holy week they are kept in small shrines and people organise recitations and hymns to honour them. All in all, during this period religion and family are imperative. Just one remark here: more and more people are planning trips within the country to seaside resorts and cool mountain towns. During this period most resorts will be fully booked and crammed with people eating, drinking and (of course) doing videoke. Maybe the Philippines too is losing it's religion?

Except witnessing all this holiness we were able to visit a site called Bacman Geothermal Power plant. Bacman refers to the location Bacon - Manitou. This site is situated just south of Legazpi, high up in the hills (actually a dormant volcano). On the plane from Manila to Legazpi I got talking to Ely who works for the EDC (Energy Development Cooperation) and is responsible for the water supply of the plant. Arguably he has the best office in the world. I wish I could let you see the view...

He was so kind as to show us around and according to him this is the cleanest and most environmentally friendly type of energy in the world. I suppose this statement could be true, but personally I have my doubts. The reasons: First of all the company has gone through great lenghts to make the site look green. There is a wonderful butterfly garden (supposedly the lifespan of a butterfly is an indicator for the air quality). And there was a small reserve for wild animals like boars, dear and horses (what is the relationship here?). Close by is a garden were seedlings are being grown to be replanted on the hillsides and to help the flying fox (bat) population. Coco mats are being used on hillsides to prevent erosion, when plants can not do the job (actually quite interesting). So, in conclusion, a lot of 'green' image. A quick look at the website indicates a similar pattern.

But the same cooperation is involved in oil and gas drilling and these activities receive a lot less attention... The actual plant is from the 70-ies, and now not in the best condition anymore. Surely in the 70-ies green energy was not the same thing it is today? So, what is more likely, is that this form of energy is cheap and only lately has become 'green' and of course a good way of presenting the company to the world. We have heard some fishermen in Bacon-beach are suing the company for ruining their source of income (some type of shellfish), but this relationship has not been proved yet. As we will be able to read in one of the next paragraphs, most fishermen are having difficult times now in most places anyway...
In conclusion I would like to point out that I am simply taking a critical position here and that I am actually not capable of judging the degree of greenness of this company. It may well be the most clean and durable form of energy in the world and what we saw was very inspiring in every way. So, thank you Ely for showing us around and keep up the good work!

In the meantime we have established contact with the City Planning Department of Legazpi and spoken with chief engineer Joseph Estrada. Most call him Joy and that nickname captures him well. He has presented us with the current plans, maps and documents. It turns out that there is quite some data available, but that is mainly from before the typhoon year 2006. We were able to process parts of this data into maps, some of which will be downloadable from this website. The office is still catching up with the digital revolution, so most resources are still paper. We are cooperating well and can now come into the office without appointment, which really helps us and speeds things up. We hope (and expect) this department will be very happy with our work and the maps we will present them. Now we are focusing on the different resettlement area's and are planning our 'field integration' phase. This means we will each live in these sites for a certain amount of time.

Last weekend consisted of a field trip to San Miguel island, not far from Legazpi. This island faces the pacific and together with a number of others islands forms the first barrier to the typhoons coming in from the west. On the island were only paths, so no cars. We were actually able to transport our bike on the small boat. Things on the island are still very primitive (showers at the water pump), but paradisaical: intimate rice fields with caribou, green hills, occasional grand views to the ocean and houses freely scattered about. Pineapples from the garden...I even saw a small black and white t.v, maybe the last in the world?

The main source of income is fishing for the men and making mats of palm leaves for the women. Fishing is really becoming a problem. There was a marine sanctuary, established in the early 90-ies, but the typhoon (Reming) destroyed everything. In 10 years the coral had grown about 1 cm and it was all destroyed in one day. After this event, the barangay captain had no choice but to open up the reserve for fishing, and in doing so further destroying the ecosystem. In surrounding barangay's dynamite fishing is still an issue... Because there is not enough fish, a number of fishermen are on 'standby', I believe it is not hard to imagine what this means...
The mats are being sold for about 60 Pesos (1€) for a size of 3 by 2,5 m. My estimation is that this is proportional to about 4 or 5 hours of work.

In my view, this case illustrates the Philippine condition perfectly. The way of life of these people is so very much based on living from day to day and harvesting their needs from the nature. For a long time this was a balanced system (nature was able to provide), but now with the climate change, overfishing and of course population growth, the balance is off. It is a battle for niches and these people are losing. All developments and investments come from outside the island through NGO's and government, such as the funds for the sanctuary or the programme for organic farming. When the typnoon hit, all investments were lost and even further destroyed by the people, again making them dependent on foreign aid. I think their is a need for a mentality change. These people need to realise the importance of sustainable development (so no dynamite fishing!) This means making sustainable (small scale) investments, taking responsibility and changing the day tot day lifestyle. It also means that there should be a possibility for that aided by the government and NGO's. Micro-credits could help here. I believe fish farming or aqua cultivation has great possibilities here, and i have already met someone who became rich by it. It could well work on the barangay level.
The irony is that our idea of development brings material goods and freedom of choice, but takes away the freedom of the day to day unplanned lifestyle. It is a Catch 22 situation.

To end with something amusing... The Philipines is supposed to have 7107 islands, most people know that here. I was discussing this fact with a local and we were wandering how 'island' is defined. When does it stop being a rock, surrounded by water, however small, and when is it really an island. We came to the conclusion that you need at least one tree to be classified as an island (the stereotypical deserted island with one coconuttree). And we were further wandereing who had actually counted all these islands, and if it would be possible that he or she would have made a mistake in counting them. This being the Philippines that would be very likely. So, now (for us), the Philippines consists of roughly 7000 islands, give or take a 1000...