Eighteen major river basins, including those found in Mindanao, will be given priority in the government’s National Greening Program (NGP) in the aftermath of Tropical Storm “Sendong,” officials said Wednesday.
The government this year is aiming to plant seedlings in 200,000 hectares of protected and production areas across the country under the NGP, double that of last year’s 100,000-hectare target, said Assistant Secretary Marlo Mendoza of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
Of the more than 400 river basins in the country, 18 are considered major and they will be the ones prioritized this year, Mendoza said. Their watersheds will be reforested to better stabilize slopes and avert flashfloods, he said.
“A big portion of Bukidnon, where the headwaters of the Cagayan River [originate], will be targeted,” Mendoza said.
Illegal logging has been blamed for the disaster in Iligan City, where many communities were swept away by flood waters carrying logs that had tumbled down from a watershed in Lanao del Sur.
While President Benigno Aquino III imposed a moratorium on logging in February 2011, this was believed to have been largely ignored in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARRMM), which includes Lanao del Sur.
Mendoza, who is the NGP coordinator, conceded that reforestation may just prove no match for climate change, particularly the increasing trend of intense rainfall over a short period of time.
“Even though we’re aggressive in slope stabilization and watershed protection, and whether you have a very good forest cover, because of climate change and the unique phenomenon of very intense rainfall over a short period of time, you’ll always have flashfloods,” he said.
He said the most immediate measure that authorities can take is for the local government units to be equipped with geo-hazard maps so they can move residents out of settlement areas in danger zones.
“Although we’re embarking on a massive greening program, the LGUs should be conscious in properly implementing proper settlement and zoning. Flashfloods will always happen,” he said.
The DENR planted 69.37 million seedlings in some 117,688 hectares of forest lands in 2011, way above the 100,000-ha target. It aims to plant 1.5 million seedlings in 1.5 million hectares nationwide by 2016.
Priority areas include mangrove and protected areas, ancestral domain areas, civil and military areas, urban areas under the greening plan of local government units, and abandoned mine sties, among others.