Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Integrated initiatives vs poverty

Integrated initiatives vs poverty
Journal Online
August 3, 2010

Poverty and environment are so interlinked that as the state of the environment diminishes, poverty directly increases and vice versa. It is imperative, therefore that these two areas, being of social and economic concern, be treated jointly.

Yet, the common practice at present is to treat them separately.  At the national level, there’s principally Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for environmental concerns and National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) for poverty. At the local government levels-whether province, municipality, city and  barangay-environmental officers are hardly ever focused on the impact on the poor of environmental developments.

Though historically the Philippines has been richly endowed with natural resources, today the level of poverty is so much higher than its neighbors which had much less in natural resources to start with. Moreover, our natural resources are reaching critical levels - e.g. our seas are so depleted that the fisherfolks now constitute the poorest sector.

Next to fisherfolks, farmers are the next poorest with forest and agricultural lands being converted to residential and commercial properties, leaving farmers without land to till and make productive for their basic needs.

In the private sector, there are  corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects that exceptionally, are focused on the environment but in the long run also benefit the poor. A clear case is the establishment of marine sanctuaries supported by coastal resorts in the areas near them. A specific example is that of the resorts in Mactan. In the 1980s, the Bohol Strait between Mactan and Cebu on the northwest and Bohol on the southeast was devastated because of dynamite fishing. In the 1990s, with technical assistance from USAID, a marine sanctuary was established on the small island called Gilutungan. By mid-2000s, the corals and fishes came back to life, so much so that the fisherfolks became passionate protectors of the marine sanctuary. Moreover, marine life in the sanctuary gave birth to eco-tourism. Downstream livelihoods like pumpboat services, dive instructors, tour guides, food and souvenir sales thrived.

Based on the success of Gilutungan, a similar project was initiated in 2004 off the coast of Olango Island, directly across Mactan Shangrila. Today the same poverty/environment (P/E) benefits are enjoyed by the hotels and the local community.  Marine ecology greatly improved, making the hotels more attractive to tourists and the locals benefiting economically from the richer fish harvest and tourism activities.

There are a number of similar poverty/environment successes in other sectors like the Community-Based Forestry Management (CBFM) initiative of DENR started in the 1980s and the technological assistance to farmers by the Department of Agriculture.  It is imperative that these successful cases be identified and up-scaled.  It is also strategically critical, for these initiatives to gain access to financing, that they be integrated into the planning protocols of NEDA on the national level and the DILG, which is mandated to mentor local governments, for local government units.  NEDA and DILG can facilitate the integration of poverty and environment initiatives at the planning stage of DENR, NAPC and other relevant agencies.

For the private sector, business and industry associations such as the Philippine Business for Social Progress, the Philippine Business for the Environment and the Management Association of the Philippines can assist in the scaling-up and integration of P/E initiatives.

I concede that much awareness-raising must first be done.  I count on the commitment of  United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) that their program “to support governments to increase their financing and implementation of pro-poor environment outcomes through mainstreaming environment issues in planning and financing processes” will help poverty and environment initiatives to take a deeper root in the Philippines. 

(Grace Favila is Adviser to the Board of the Philippine Business for the Environment and Vice President of the Philippine Pollution Prevention Roundtable.)