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Government eyes further greening for Upper Marikina watershedCatherine J. Teves

MANILA, June 19 — Government targets spearheading more reforestation for 26,125-hectare Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape (UMRBPL) to better help address degradation in this watershed which provides ecological services to Metro Manila and surroundings.

"We aim reforesting some 5,000 has. this year using around 2.5 million tree seedlings," said Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Region 4-A Regional Executive director Reynulfo Juan who has jurisdiction over the area.

He said DENR welcomes partners for such activity as government can't undertake the work alone.

Juan noted the target planting is in addition to the 10,000 hectares the government set reforesting in UMRBPL by 2016 using around five million tree seedlings.

DENR and its partners already completed greening the area about two years ahead of schedule, he said.

UMRBPL covers Antipolo City as well as Rizal province's San Mateo, Rodriguez, Baras and Tanay municipalities.

Reforestation for UMRBPL must be scaled up to address several issues hounding that watershed, said Juan.

Among such issues is loss of forests there, he noted.

Authorities attributed such loss to land conversion andspeculation, charcoal-making and fuel wood collection, slash-and-burn agriculture, residential development as well as illegal logging and timber poaching.

USAID reported forest cover in UMRBPL already shrank by 7.1 percent or 465 has. to 6,105 has. in 2010 from what this was in 2003.

Experts warned loss of forests drives soil erosion which results in siltation of waterways and water bodies, reducing water-carrying capacity and water flow there so these tend to overflow.

They noted forest loss also diminishes watersheds' capability to regulate water flowing towards low-lying areas like Metro Manila, increasing flooding susceptibility there.

Flooding in Metro Manila and other nearby low-lying areas during tropical storm 'Ondoy' (international name 'Ketsana') in 2009 exposed extent of forest loss and degradation in UMRBPL.

Authorities said 'Ondoy' affected almost a million families in such areas.

'Ondoy' flood waters also submerged entire communities in several of the areas, fueling public-private partnerships on rehabilitating UMRBPL to prevent similar occurrences in the future.

Reforestation is one of several measures government and its partners identified for rehabilitating UMRBPL.

This week, DENR spearheaded in Metro Manila its partners' forum for UMRBPL.

"We're trying to get more LGUs, other national government agencies, international funding organizations and others interested in helping rehabilitate UMRBPL," Juan said.

He noted DENR is open to ways such parties can help bolster the rehabilitation bid.

"Proposals for funding and other means are most welcome," he said.

Juan said rehabilitation measures for UMRBPL are anchored on four thematic areas: climate change and disaster risk reduction, solid waste management, biodiversity conservation as well as water qualityand resource management.

Those thematic areas reflect recommendations made during the UMRBPL stakeholders' forum DENR spearheaded in Metro Manila last month.

Participants in that forum discussed status of rehabilitation work in the watershed, identified gaps in managing that area and came up with the recommendations to address these.

Presidential Proclamation 296 in 2011 established UMRBPL and placed this watershed under DENR's administrative jurisdiction and control.

UMRBPL was once a watershed reserve Executive Order 33 established in 1904 to protect Manila's water source. (PNA)

CTB/CJT/UTB

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