MANILA, May 14 –- River Basin Control Office (RBCO) aims commencing this year preparation of the integrated master plan for rehabilitating the river basin covering Iloilo-Batiano river system to help save that watershed from further degradation and to promote sustainable development there.
”We’re in the process of procuring consultants’ services for this,” RBCO Executive Dir. Dr. Vicente Tuddao Jr. said Monday during a briefing on the first Philippine international river summit in Iloilo City from May 30 to June 1 this year.
River basin governance is among topics for discussion during the summit, which Iloilo City will host with Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
RBCO defines river basin as a watershed having an area of over 1,000 square kilometers and where topographic boundaries typically cover land within three or more provinces and two or more regions.
The Philippines has 421 principal river basins with drainage areas ranging from 41 square kilometers to nearly 26,000 square kilometers, RBCO noted.
RBCO continues spearheading efforts on preparing integrated master plans for river basins nationwide as this agency reported such watersheds are degrading already.
Experts warned such degradation includes diminishing ground water resources, resulting in a 20 percent to 30 percent decline in irrigated areas since 1973.
Direct causes of river basin degradation in the Philippines include deforestation, over-exploitation of vegetation, inappropriate agricultural and forestry activities, unregulated land conversion and water resource mismanagement, they noted.
Tuddao said master planning for Iloilo-Batiano river basin is targeted to commence this year.
The master plan will help boost on-going efforts on cleaning up Iloilo River in Iloilo City, he noted.
”That plan will serve as the blueprint for development in the river basin,” he also said.
He said among the plan’s components will be the proposed initiatives for tourism and transportation.
Iloilo City Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog is bullish about Iloilo River clean-up’s impact on economy of that Central Visayan urban center, reporting the activity is opening up opportunities for implementation of more waterfront development projects that are expected to boost tourism there.
The clean-up is driving interest in target projects like hotels and restaurants along Iloilo River’s banks as well as cruises through that waterway as city authorities concerned aim ridding the area of pollution, garbage and informal settlers, he said.
”Such clean-up will have a major impact on our city’s tourism,” he said earlier during the briefing.
Iloilo River is among waterways to be highlighted during the summit.
National Statistical Coordination Board lists Iloilo City as a first-class urban area in terms of income classification.
"The city earns only between P200 million to P300 million annually from arrival of an estimated 100,000 tourists there each year, however," Mabilog said.
Iloilo City's main tourist draws at present consist of festivals and churches, he noted.
He's bullish cleaning up Iloilo River and planned waterfront projects within that area will help raise Iloilo City's tourism arrivals and revenues.
Mabilog reported Malaysia already experienced such turnaround after a river rehabilitation project there generated development which raked in for that country some US$ 170 million in visitor earnings.
"That's one thing we'd like to follow," he said.
He expects over 100 delegates from various countries to attend the summit.
The event will serve as a venue for discussing best practices on water-related concerns like river basin governance, climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction, water quality improvement and eco-tourism.
Onslaught of flooding during typhoons like 'Frank' in Iloilo City, 'Ondoy' in Metro Manila and 'Sendong' in Mindanao raises urgency for local governments to prioritize river management, Mabilog said. (PNA)