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Jakarta Post

Philippine govt declares coastlines no-build zones

  • TJ A. Burgonio

    The Jakarta Post

Manila   /   Mon, November 25, 2013   /  11:57 am

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has ordered Environment Secretary Ramon Paje to keep coastlines off limits to homes after huge waves spawned by Supertyphoon '€œYolanda'€ swamped seaside villages in central Philippines.

At the same time, Congress is proposing to give Aquino at least 55 billion pesos (US$1.25 billion) to rehabilitate typhoon-wrecked areas.

Given the huge cost of rehabilitation, the Senate and the House of Representatives are also seeking to authorise agencies to spend 21 billion pesos in calamity funds in 2013 until the end of next year.

This is on top of the 14.6-billion-peso supplemental budget in 2013 and the 20-billion-peso rehabilitation fund in the 2014 budget earlier proposed by the Senate to deal with the aftermath of Yolanda and past storms.

As the government grappled with the aftermath of what was believed to be the most powerful storm to hit land, the President directed Paje to draw up a comprehensive program on environment protection against storm surges, flooding and landslides.

'€œPart of the President'€™s directive to the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) is to establish '€˜no-build zones'€™ on coastlines to ensure the transfer of residents to safe resettlement areas,'€ Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said over radio.

In the country, the easement or setback from the shoreline high-water mark is currently at 20 metres. In other countries in the Pacific, the easement is from 50m to 200m, according to environmental planners.

Long shoreline

An archipelago with more than 7,000 islands, the Philippines has one of the world'€™s longest shorelines at 36,289 kilometres, data from the National Statistical Coordination Board show.

When it tore through central Philippines on November 8, Yolanda (international name: '€œHaiyan'€) spawned huge waves of 5m to 7m, cutting down homes, buildings and crops in its path and reducing many areas into a virtual wasteland.

Residents of seaside villages in Tacloban City in Leyte, Samar and other nearby provinces bore the brunt of the typhoon'€™s fury.

Yolanda left in its wake at least 5,235 dead and 1,631 missing and destroyed 11.9 billion pesos in infrastructure and 10.5 billion pesos in agricultural products.

The government blamed local officials'€™ lack of preparations, the residents'€™ indifference to warnings and their poor understanding of the weather bureau'€™s advisories on storm surges for the high death toll.

The country is buffeted by an average of 20 cyclones every year. Yolanda was the 25th storm to strike the country this year.

Coloma said Filipinos should learn from the painful lessons of Yolanda, as well as Tropical Storm '€œSendong'€ and Typhoon '€œPablo'€ that also spawned heavy flooding that left a high death toll among residents living near inland waters years ago.

He said areas that had been marked '€œdanger zones'€ based on the geo-hazard mapping of the DENR'€™s Mines and Geosciences Bureau should be cleared.

'€œWe should keep these lessons in mind so that we can build back better,'€ he said over government-run dzRB.

Replant mangroves

At the same time, the President directed Paje to replant mangroves in coastal areas as a natural buffer against storm surges.

'€œThe mangroves are being prepared so that planting could start, because it takes five to seven years to grow this,'€ Coloma said.

He said victims displaced by the storm were allowed to stay with their relatives in Metro Manila. But those who have none could stay in the bunk homes set up by the government in their own provinces.

Cash for work

As the typhoon victims picked up the pieces of their lives, government agencies had begun offering cash-for-work programme for 3,000 residents from 22 barangays in Tacloban and 70 barangays in neighboring Ormoc City, Coloma said.

The government is offering cash to the victims for clearing and cleaning up highways, public markets and plazas, clearing esteros and waterways of debris, and constructing schools and government buildings.

This would be expanded to other provinces and regions in the coming weeks, Coloma said.

'€œWe'€™re also thankful for the assistance offered by the International Labor Organization to allot up to $300 million for the cash-for-work program for some 290,000 residents of Tacloban, Roxas City, Busuanga town in Palawan, Cebu, and the provinces of Negros Occidental and Bohol,'€ he said.

In the meantime, health and social welfare workers are ready to attend to 800,000 women who have given birth, or have yet to give birth, Coloma said.

'€œThere are sufficient obstetrics kits for mothers delivering babies and there are sufficient number of midwives,'€ he said.

While mayors focused on rehabilitation, Department of Health officials have been authorised by Memorandum Circular No. 61 to man health and sanitation facilities in the calamity-stricken areas, he added.

Health personnel are ready to administer vaccines against measles, polio and tetanus.

'€œWith regard to the risk of malnutrition faced by 1.5 million youngsters or children in the calamity zone raised by Ms Valerie Amos of the United Nations, the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) through its National Nutrition Council has the sufficient infrastructure for this,'€ Coloma said.

Joint resolution

Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. will file a joint resolution to extend the validity of funds for calamity response in the 2013 budget by another year.

'€œThis is the first time we'€™re doing this given the situation,'€ Drilon said on the phone.

The resolution would extend the authorisation to spend this year'€™s appropriations for calamity and other disaster and relief-related programs of some line agencies until Dec 31, 2014, Drilon said.

The funds, estimated at 20.8 billion pesos, were needed to '€œfully support the urgent relief and long-term rehabilitation'€ of calamity-stricken areas across the country, he said.

Free up funds

If adopted by both chambers, the joint resolution would free up the funds for agencies dealing with disaster-relief and rebuilding projects.

Otherwise, if they would remain '€œunobligated'€ by year-end, the funds would revert to the National Treasury and could no longer be used by the start of the next fiscal year, Drilon said.

'€œIt will be adopted by both chambers,'€ he said of the resolution.

Both the Senate and the House are also pushing for the creation of a 20-billion-peso rehabilitation fund for typhoon-stricken areas in the 2.268-trillion-peso 2014 budget.

Drilon said the fund would address the damage brought about by recent calamities, including Yolanda, Typhoon '€œSanti'€ that hit Central Luzon, the siege in Zamboanga City and the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that hit Bohol and Cebu provinces.

After the Supreme Court ruled that the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) was unconstitutional, Drilon filed a bill authorizing the President to use the unspent 14.5 billion pesos in PDAF in 2013 for repair and reconstruction.

The supplemental budget to be funded with the unspent pork barrel should be approved ahead of the 2014 budget, otherwise it could not be used, he said.

The calamity funds in 2013, the supplemental budget and the rehabilitation fund add up to 55 billion pesos, and these will be at the disposal of the executive department, Drilon said.

US$1 = 43.84 pesos

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