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Communities can help raise LGUs' environmental compliance: expert

MANILA, Jan. 27 – An expert believes communities must demand increasing environmental compliance of local government units (LGUs) which are at the forefront of disaster preparedness efforts.

”If the laws and resources are already there, then as citizens we need to say safety is important to us,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon's Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction Margareta Wahlstrom said Thursday in Metro Manila on the side of a briefing on disasters after visiting flood-stricken Cagayan de Oro City and Iligan City in Mindanao.

She raised urgency for increasing LGUs' compliance, noting environmental degradation is contributing to onslaught of flooding and other disasters.

The Philippines' Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) continues advocating the same as this agency reported environmental compliance of LGUs nationwide remains dismal.

DENR earlier established a one-stop Environmental Compliance Assistance Center (ECAC) at its headquarters in Quezon City and created a website (www.emb.gov.ph/eca.center) to help guide LGUs on the country's environmental regulations.

”People are entitled to a healthy environment -– that's a fundamental right,” said DENR Secretary Ramon Paje.

The Mines and Geosciences Bureau under DENR also prepared geohazard maps to help LGUs better brace for disasters.

Paje continues appealing for LGUs to heed warnings in such maps.

Ms. Wahlstrom noted disaster preparedness efforts, including addressing such degradation, are essential particularly for the Philippines and other middle-income nations.

She said such nations “are the ones that really accumulate risks (for calamities) faster” partly due to very rapid economic growth.

A report distributed during the briefing shows about 45 percent of 302 disasters on Earth in 2011 struck Asia, the emerging regional economic power, killing almost 81 percent of 29,782 people worldwide who perished due to such calamities.

Asia also sustained last year economic losses estimated at some US$ 274 billion or 75 percent of the US$ 365 billion global figure, the document likewise notes.

A total of 33 disasters struck the Philippines in 2011, exceeding counts for China (21 disasters), India (11 disasters), Indonesia (11 disasters) and Japan (7 disasters) that year, the report continues.

The document cites 'EM-DAT: The Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance/Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters International Disaster Database' as source of the information.

Aside from raising LGUs' environmental compliance, Ms. Wahlstrom said enacting a land use code will help boost disaster preparedness which faces challenges posed by conflicting land uses.

"The code will be an important complementary legislation to see through," she said.

She also cited the use of multi-hazard warning and monitoring systems as well as community empowerment as collectively helping enhance local disaster preparedness efforts.

Such empowerment includes tapping schools as conduits of disaster preparedness information, she noted.

DENR-Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) Officer-in-Charge Assistant Director Gilbert Gonzales urged local officials to regularly access the website this agency created for LGUs so each can increase their respective knowledge of and compliance with environmental regulations.

He also said ECAC is open to accommodating queries from LGUs.

"This is our way of further reaching out to LGUs," he said.

DENR technical personnel man ECAC so LGUs can get expert advise and clarification on the country's environmental regulations, he noted.

LGUs can contact ECAC either through telephone at (02) 920-22-66 or through email at eca.center@emb.gov.ph, DENR said.

Solid waste management is among environmental measures which DENR hopes can be truly instituted at the local level.

Earlier, National Solid Waste Management Commission reported LGUs continue posting low compliance with Republic Act No. 9003 (Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000).

Nearly 64 percent or 1,025 of 1,610 LGUs nationwide still host open dumps which R.A. 9003 already bans, NSWMC reported.

The country has only 38 sanitary landfills, NSWMC also said.

NSWMC further reported only 360 of over 1,000 cities and municipalities nationwide were able to prepare and submit for this commission's review and approval their respective 10-year solid waste management plans.

Such plans are essential in addressing the problem on waste.

The Philippines generates an average of 36,000 tons of waste daily, NSWMC added. (PNA) scs/CJT/utb

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