Category Archives: Environment

Posts about the environment.

The Relationship Between Bribery and the Environment

Bribery can lead to environmental degradation. What are the evidences? Are there solutions to this age-old corrupt practice? This article explores these issues.

The recent spate of corruption highlighting a businesswoman allegedly bribing government officials to channel billions in taxpayers money to fly-by-night or bogus non-government organizations prompted me to write this article. Since my concern is largely on the environmental implications of events like this, I reviewed literature on how corruption, specifically bribery, relates to the environment.

Bribery and the Environment

Considering that governance becomes the prime focus of analysis when corruption issues arise, this discussion will examine undesirable practices, specifically offering of incentives to public officials in view of exempting them from the rule of law or pocketing taxpayers money for their own selfish purposes. Bribery occurs at different levels of government, that is, from the highest administrative or lawmaking bodies to operational levels charged with law enforcement responsibilities.

A brief review of reports on the relationship between bribery at different levels of government and the environment yielded the following summaries and conclusions:

1. Bribery of law enforcers leads to low compliance among violators thus pressure to natural resources.

Sundström’s study[1] in South Africa revealed that law enforcers’ acceptance of bribes from small-scale fishers who commit illegal fishing such as poaching decrease their trustworthiness. As a result, fishers tended to exploit their natural marine resources more than what it can sustain. Overfishing upsets the balance of the marine food chain such that the population of target fishes decline and sizes of fish caught by fishermen get smaller through time.

2. Ineffective regulatory systems results to pollution.

Environmental inspections as a regulatory system serve to deter non-compliance with rules and regulations set forth for approval of environmentally critical projects. Once those tasked to do such inspections receive money in exchange for favorable reports on the project’s environmental performance despite exceeding permissible emission levels, pollution results. The effects of pollution may be immediate (acute) or long-term (chronic) depending on the nature of the pollutant.

For example, if a mining project does not have adequate leachate treatment facilities as a result of non-compliance to required mitigating measures, high concentrations of heavy metals will be discharged into waterways. This will disrupt the normal biological processes in aquatic ecosystems where various organisms including man derive sustenance.

3. Environmentally harmful policies are formulated such that disasters occur.

When unscrupulous individuals bribe lawmakers to craft policies towards their favor, environmentally harmful policies result. For example, if the government allows logging in highly elevated or watershed areas, lack of trees to cushion the impact of heavy rains result to flooding of low-lying villages. This will mean loss of lives and property aside from loss of important ecological goods and services.

4. Unfair allocation of environmental resources lead to further environmental degradation.

thief

If high-ranking officials accept bribes to allow large commercial fishing companies to fish in municipal waters, unfair allocation of marine resources occur. As small fishers do not have the means to compete with the efficient, mechanized fishing equipment of large-scale fishers, they will resort to illegal means that further degrade the environment. One of them is the use of dynamite in fishing wherein large areas of productive reef are destroyed. The attitude that prevails is “Well take them (the fish), before they (the large-scale fishers) do.”

What has been done so far to curb bribery?

Acceptance of bribes shows the vulnerability of those tasked to govern and enforce the rules and regulations of a country. Many solutions have been suggested, recommended and enforced including reforms to improve transparency and accountability, legislation to reduce flaws in existing laws, reducing the discretionary powers of public officials, greater awareness among the people, involving citizens in government affairs, and so on and so forth.[2] However, despite these measures, corruption persists in many countries.

The Economic Solution

Based on the resource allocation point of view, the practice of bribery continues because it offers those involved to get more than enough resources to satisfy their wants. The one giving the bribe and the one receiving the bribe both benefit from their transaction but third parties suffer. The negative environmental impacts then are externalities of these transactions. There is a need, therefore, to integrate the externality of environmental degradation as a result of bribery.

In view of developing a research concept using the economic solution of internalizing externalities, economic valuation may be used as an approach to determine if there is a relationship between the amount of bribe and the cost of environmental degradation. Thus, the following questions may be asked:

  • Is there a relationship between the amount of bribe and the corresponding cost of environmental degradation?
  • How much environmental degradation occurs for a certain amount of bribe?

For the benefits gained by both the briber and the bribed (my own terms for brevity), monetary incentives to disadvantaged parties can offset the negative effects of environmental degradation. The point is, the guilty parties should be made to pay for the consequences of their actions. Penalties should be proportionate to achieve environmental justice.

Environmental justice is defined by the US Environmental Protection Agency as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, sex, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” This means fair allocation of natural resources to everyone should be pursued in a democratic society.

Reference

1. Sundström, A. (2013). Corruption in the commons: Why bribery hampers enforcement of environmental regulations in South African fisheries. International Journal of the Commons, 7(2). Retrieved from http://www.thecommonsjournal.org/index.php/ijc/article/download/370/360

2. Winbourne, S. (2002). Corruption and the environment. Retrieved September 11, 2013, from http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PNACT876.pdf

© 2013 September 12 P. A. Regoniel

List of Negative and Positive Externalities of Oil Spill

Many people view oil spills as grossly disadvantageous to everyone. In reality, there are benefits gained by some sectors from disasters like this. Read and find out how could this be so.

There was a lot of concern about wasted lives and property due to the collision of a cargo vessel and a passenger ferry last August 16, 2013 in Cebu in central Philippines. Aside from lost lives due to the accident, there were also concerns on the ill-effects of oil leaked into the environment. The sunken passenger ferry spilled thousands of liters of diesel and bunker oil that affected around 5,000 hectares of nearby coastal areas[1].

The oil spill in Cebu, although locally significant, pales in comparison to major oil spill disasters in human history. Among those that gained worldwide attention were the oil leaks due to a ruptured well in the Timor Sea in 2009 and a similar incident in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The latter one is considered the worst US environment disaster, second worldwide to the intentional oil spill during the gulf war in 1991[4].

Externality: Cost and Benefit of Oil Spill

These oil spills have both negative and positive externalities. An externality is a cost (negative effect) or benefit (positive effect) to a third-party as a result of an activity, transaction, or event like the oil spill. The third-party is originally not a part of the transaction, activity or event.

Oil spills are usually perceived negatively owing to the overwhelming impact to the environment and people’s livelihood especially those who are natural resource dependent. But viewing it more objectively, benefits accrue to other parties as it opens new opportunities to some sectors. While companies responsible for the disaster incurred millions of dollars to contain the spill and make reparations, benefits accrued to those tasked to do the clean-up, support services, and associated activities.

Here are lists of positive and negative externalities based on reports about the oil spill in Cebu[1], Timor Sea[2][3], and the Gulf of Mexico[4][5].

Negative Externalities of Oil Spill

  1. Fishing opportunities for thousands of fisherfolk lost due to mangrove contamination
    dead fish
  2. Reduced marine productivity due to disruption of the food chain
  3. Opportunity cost due to government dispatch of ships and aircraft to conduct clean-up operations
  4. Loss of marine and coastal wildlife (e.g. fish, birds, turtles, sea snakes, mammals)
  5. Loss of tourism revenue (affects surfers, beach goers, sports fishing, SCUBA diving)
  6. Loss of ecological function of marshlands and mud flats
  7. Lost income for tourism industries
  8. Decline in aquaculture production (e.g. seaweed farms, fish cages, shellfish beds)
  9. Oil price hike due to lost oil production
  10. Health costs for those engaged in clean-up operations

Positive Externalities of Oil Spill

  1. Research opportunity – universities dispatched research ship to collect samples and analyze toxicity of water; monitoring project
  2. Containment technology development – improved devices or techniques to contain oil spills in extremely high pressures underwater
  3. Local materials development to contain oil spills (e.g. coconut husks, sawdust, chicken feathers, and hair)
  4. Increased profit from sale of dispersants and chemical compounds that break the oil into smaller molecules
  5. Work for thousands of workers addressing the spill
  6. Income from treatment and storage of retrieved oil
  7. Consultancies for oil spill experts
  8. Better oil field operation practices to prevent future disasters
  9. Thousands of scoopers and respirators sold to the benefit of manufacturers
  10. Income from rentals of portable toilets and bedrooms

Conclusion

While these lists of the negative and positive externalities of the oil spill are not exhaustive, these highlight the importance of viewing things objectively. These negative and positive externalities may be valued to see the overall impact of the disaster.

It must be pointed out, however, that the expected net benefits from oil spill will likely be negative because the effect of the oil spill to the environment can last for years. And the natural environment as life support systems is priceless.

References

1. Rappler. (2013, August 19). Oil spill: Cebu under state of calamity. Retrieved August 29, 2013, from http://www.rappler.com/nation/36787-oil-spill-cebu-under-state-of-calamity

2. Al Jazeera. (2009, October 30). Timor sea oil leak continues. Retrieved August 29, 2013, from http://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia-pacific/2009/10/200910307564274566.html

3. Arup, T. (2009, November 3). (2009, November 3). Mud to be used to stop oil rig fire today. In The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved August 29, 2013, from http://www.smh.com.au/environment/mud-to-be-used-to-stop-oil-rig-fire-today-20091102-htfp.html

4. Dell’Amore, C. (2010, May 13). Gulf oil leaks could gush for years. In National Geographic Daily News. Retrieved August 29, 2013, from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/05/100513-science-environment-gulf-oil-spill-cap-leak/

5. BBC News. (2010, May 30). Gulf of Mexico oil leak ‘worst US environment disaster.’ Retrieved August 29, 2013, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/1019433

© 2013 August 30 P. A. Regoniel

Household and Government Adaptation Strategies to Climate Change

Flooding has been a perennial problem in many countries. This is made worse by climate change. How do households and governments adapt to these events?

I could not access the internet for the past two days due to service interruption probably caused by the strong typhoon code named ‘Maring” and southwest moonsoon referred to as ‘Habagat’ by the locals. The heavy fall of rain inundated many parts of northern, central, and southern Luzon in the Philippines affecting many residents living in those areas. The rising tide and release of impounded water in large hydroelectric dams worsened flooding in areas where the waters flow.

According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), the calamity affected more than 1.7 million people where 17 died, 41 got injured and 5 persons were missing[1]. Many of these people stayed in evacuation centers after the raging waters submerged their houses and damaged their belongings.

Significant changes may have been made to mitigate the effects of flooding because the death toll this week is lesser compared to that of Typhoon Ondoy or Ketsana in 2009 that caused the death of more than 300 persons[2]. Apparently, the people as well as the government may have learned to adapt from experience and prepare for such disasters which seem to get worse.

Climate change is believed to be the primary cause of typhoon severity in the past few years. Despite the controversies associated with climate change, I adopt the side of those practicing the precautionary principle, i.e., it is better to adopt a policy that addresses an environmental problem than having to suffer the consequences of not taking action. Thus, I incorporate climate change in the following subtitles on people and government’s adaptation to large-scale flooding as a result of climate change.

Household Adaptation to Climate Change

While hundreds of people frantically moved to evacuation centers in response to early warnings from NDRRMC, still many others stuck it in their homes saying they are already used to these events and had, in fact, undertaken measures to adapt and survive. Residents even enjoyed the storms, frolicking, jumping in waist deep waters, and laughing it out while taking certain precautions by wearing hard hats and life vests (see video).

Of course, their behavior exposes them to yet another danger, i.e., leptospirosis (a disease caused by water contaminated by excrements of rats or other animals), the possibility of raging waters once the nearby dam releases excess waters in the reservoir, alienation from nearby sources of food if rains continue, exposure to toxic substances that may go with the waters, among others.

rubber boat

Other household adaptations to flooding include adding second floors to homes, modified transportation vehicles, makeshift rafts, thigh high boots, plastic bottles connected together, airbeds deployed as rafts, rubber boats, among others. Many of these household level flood adaptations are inexpensive, largely makeshift, or temporary solutions to flooding.

I have not seen a household flooding adaptation on the long-term such as a house on log I saw many years ago in a periodically flooded marsh of Agusan. Of course, having a log house in the middle of the city is absurd but I believe households can come up with long-term solutions to their problems. Relocation to elevated areas, after all, appears to be the best thing households can do. This may mean they will have to forgo their life in the urban centers and live in the hills.

Government Adaptation to Climate Change: Critique and Suggested Solutions

If communities cannot effectively  adapt to flooding, then the government must take steps to aid its citizens. Disaster relief operations always follow calamities like this. This approach, however, is at best palliative. Prevention is always a better approach than cure.

While flooding is a natural event, the government can still do something about it. It can be avoided or minimized to some extent by good environmental planning and action. Good planning and policy can prevent costly impacts of flooding.

In an effort to prevent the costly impact of typhoons, administrators and planners are looking into the contribution of poor drainage, indiscriminate throwing of non-biodegradable wastes as well as buildings that block waterways, and even corruption as unsolved problems that impact on effective flood management.

Poor drainage

Planners in government believe that making infrastructures that promote drainage can help alleviate the problem on flooding. Without incorporating ecological principles, however, this may just be a hit-and-miss approach.

In reality, there is a limit to what a good drainage system can do because Metro Manila was historically a marshland. Flooding is a natural process in wetlands. Cities built on wetlands destroyed a very important ecological function, i.e., flood control[3]. Nature must take its course and repeat the same process (i.e. flooding) when loaded with lots of rainfall. This requires environmental planning that accommodates the role of marshlands: clearing the waterways, leaving existing wetlands as it is, or developing subdivisions away from the natural courses of water.

This entails much cost but the benefits may be weighed against the costs. The impact of climate change appears to worsen each year and investments along this line can prevent future tragedies.

Indiscriminate throwing of wastes that block waterways

Blocked waterways reduces the speed by which water flows to low level areas. Tons of plastic or non-biodegradable wastes still clog the drains. This is made worse by buildings blocking the waterways. This means that in general, many of the citizens still do not adopt good practices in disposing their solid wastes, and city zoning policies are not being followed.

While an appeal to the public to stop them from throwing wastes indiscriminately may work, economic incentives in the form of fines, seems to be a better option. This also requires a vigorous information and dissemination campaign (IEC) to educate the people about the impact of their action to the environment and themselves.

Corruption

Corruption was factored in the flooding prevention equation because a sizable part of the 10 billion pesos in Priority Development Assistance Fund or PDAF (widely know as pork barrel funds) was diverted to questionable projects of non-existent non-government organizations (NGOs). Only a handful of corrupt officials benefited from such allocations through kickbacks and commissions of up to 45%[4]. A large amount of these funds were earmarked to fund flood control projects.

The government is hot on the heels of the culprits although there are evidences that this corrupt practice have been going on for decades despite rules, regulations and policies that aimed to lower the incidence of this age-old practice. Corruption has been culturally ingrained and became a ‘normal’ part of people’s lives since time immemorial.

A friend and I once brainstormed to find out the underlying cause of corruption. We created a problem tree and arrived at the root cause — GREED.

Thus, the solution to this problem lies at the very foundation of one’s value system. Change must come from within the person.

Conclusion

Successful adaptation to climate change entails effective responses at household or community levels backed by a supportive government. The nature of this adaptation could be short-term or long-term. Well-informed government policies on climate change adaptation strategies appears most critical in providing long-term solutions to avert tragic consequences.

References

1.   Reyes-Palanca, Z. (2013, August 23). ‘Maring’ leaves 17 dead, 41 injured. Retrieved August 23, 2013, from http://www.journal.com.ph/index.php/news/top-stories/56739-maring-leaves-17-dead-41-injured

2. Agence France-Presse. (2009, October 9). Death toll from Ondoy rises to 337. Retrieved August 23, 2013, from http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/nation/10/09/09/death-toll-ondoy-rises-337

3. Novitzki, R., Smith, R., and J. D. Fretwell. Wetland functions, values, and assessment. Retrieved August 23, 2013, from http://water.usgs.gov/nwsum/WSP2425/functions.html

4. La Viña, T. (2013, August 6). Investigating the pork barrel scandal. Retrieved August 23, 2013 from http://manilastandardtoday.com/2013/08/06/investigating-the-pork-barrel-scandal/

© 2013 August 23 P. A. Regoniel

Newly Discovered Mammal Species Olinguito vs The Bearcat

Have you heard or read about a new mammal species discovered in Mount Andes in South America? It is called olinguito. The bearcat resembles it. See the difference.

As I browsed the internet for current information on science, I bumped on the Science Daily website featuring olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina), a mammal species of mistaken identity. What first struck my attention is that olinguito resembles the mammal I took a shot two weeks ago in a wildlife conservation facility. It is called the Palawan bearcat.

Olinguito vs Bearcat

Examining the picture of the newly discovered mammal species closely, I could not help but compare it with the bearcat (Arctictis binturong whitei) which is found in Palawan. Accordingly, the olinguito looks like a cross between a house cat and a teddy bear.

The Palawan bearcat is similarly described. It is also a cross between a bear and a cat but it neither belongs to the bear nor the cat family. The mammal belongs to the family Viverridae[1].

For copyright reasons, I could not post a picture of the olinguito for comparison here, but this is available in the ABC News website. Indeed, the olinguito looks very much similar to the mammal found in the western part of the Philippines, in the island of Palawan.

You may click the link to the ABC News website to see a picture of olinguito that bears close resemblance to the bearcat I show below.

Palawan bearcat
The Palawan bearcat (Arctictis binturong).

Feeding Habit of the Bearcat vs the Olinguito

The bearcat is sometimes treated as a distinct species although it looks very much like the ones found in Borneo. It has a prehensile tail, meaning, its tail can grasp an object. This is because the bearcat lives in tree canopies to feed on both plant material and other smaller animals like insects, rodents, birds and even fish[2]. Thus, it is omnivorous (animal and plant eater) as opposed to olinguito which is a carnivore (exclusively flesh-eater).

The information on olingo’s feeding habit, however, is a bit confusing because the headline in Science Daily says it is a carnivore. But scrolling down further in the website, it reports that during the three-week expedition of Helgen and Kays, they noted that it is a nocturnal animal and feeds mainly on fruits[3].

This requires further study as the discovery of this new species spurred interest on finding out more about its characteristics, habitat, distribution and conservation. More expeditions are being planned at the moment.

Behavior and Size Comparison

I find the bearcat much cuter than the olinguito. In fact, tourists love to have the tamed bearcat on their shoulders for a quick shot every time they visit the Palawan Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Center (PWRCC) where several of them are kept in captivity. Placing the bearcat on one’s shoulders, however, is a dangerous practice because the bearcat can rip flesh easily just like a bear.

More than a decade ago, I saw someone made the mistake of handling it when it was already big and got slashed by its razor-sharp claws in the process. It is docile when tamed but accidents do happen.

The bearcat grows up to 1.4 meters and weigh more than 20 kilograms as opposed to olinguito’s two pounds. This probably is the reason why olinguito was named so. It is a small olingo.

A Demonstration of Keenness

New findings like this arise from a keen sense of observation which good researchers must possess. For many years, the olinguito was regarded as a species of kinkajou, another mammal living within the same geographic range. But it took a team of scientists headed by Helgen, who noticed olinguito’s smaller teeth and skull in the museum collections, to uncover a feature that everyone overlooked. Keenness is the key.

Reference

1. Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 548–559. Retrieved August 16, 2013, from http://www.departments.bucknell.edu/biology/resources/msw3/browse.asp?id=14000270

2. Widmann, P., De Leon, J. & Duckworth, J.W. 2008. Arctictis binturong. In: IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.1. . Downloaded on 16 August 2013.

3. Smithsonian Institute (2013, August 15). New species of carnivore looks like a cross between a house cat and a teddy bear. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 16, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2013/08/130815143101.htm

© 2013 August 16 P. A. Regoniel

Successful Family-Based Mangrove Afforestation Project

Effective collaboration between communities, the government and non-government organizations can help restore the environment. Here is the story of a successful family-based afforestation project.

There are many stories of successful community-based reforestation projects but few describe successful afforestation projects. Intrigued by a colleague’s story of an afforestation program that thrived for many years in Aborlan, a municipality located 69 kilometers south of Puerto Princesa, I embarked on a trip together with colleagues to see how the community did it.

But before you read the story of a successful afforestation project I narrate below, I see it necessary to define the terms reforestation and afforestation. What is the difference between these two terms? Unless you understand the difference, you cannot fully appreciate the significance and uniqueness of this story.

What is the difference between reforestation and afforestation?

For those unfamiliar with terms that relate to environmental or natural resource matters, the term reforestation is more easily understood as opposed to afforestation. These two terms are operationally defined, that is, defined in relation to this story on afforestation.

Reforestation is planting trees once again to deforested sites or former forests that have been logged over, overharvested of lumber or burned due to a forest fire. Afforestation is converting once unproductive or bare lands into forested areas able to support biodiversity, increase carbon sequestration and capture, provide for the natural resource needs of man, among others.

The Case of Family-Based Mangrove Afforestation

Here is a condensed version of the successful afforestation project published in a local journal[1].

The coastal community  of Tagpait, Aborlan undertook a mangrove afforestation project and sustained it for many years. Their accomplishment is quite unique because they used a family-based approach in achieving the objectives of the project.

The community-based mangrove afforestation project commenced through Japan-based Organization for Industrial Spiritual and Cultural Advancement International (OISCA) International. With the help of dedicated Filipino community organizers who trained in Japan through OISCA, the community members led by their chairman, started planting mangroves in a section of the coast virtually without mangroves. The place was used mainly by the local folks for gleaning and fishing activities.

OISCA provided the funds for logistics such as hauling of seedlings and boat hires. On the other hand, the community members contributed to the project by voluntarily gathering the mangrove propagules necessary for their 25 x 400 meter (1 hectare) lots. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) awarded Contracts of stewardship agreement to families in 1991.

The stewardship agreement provided that the grantee may receive technical assistance and extension services in the management of the stewardship area. These services, to be provided by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), Department of Agriculture (DA) and other government or private entities, include the procurement of planting materials, harvesting and marketing.

Seventy-eight families started to reforest the muddy portion of the coast on a one hectare per family basis. They nurtured the mangroves to maturity. Simultaneously, they established a sanctuary for fish and other marine species. The community members managed the mangrove plantation, making sure that the area is free of disturbance.

The Outcome and Benefits of the Mangrove Afforestation Initiative

After twenty years of family-based mangrove management, the families reaped the benefits of their labor. Lush growth of mangroves, bisected by an allocated section of open space for fishers to gain access to the sea, characterizes the area. Species of Sonneratia spp., Rhizophora mucronata, Rhizophora apiculata, Lumnitzera racemosa, Xylocarpus granatum, among others species of mangroves grew at sizes of 5 to 10 cm in diameter (Figure 1).

afforestation
Fig. 1. Lush growth of mangroves bisected by a pathway for fishers in Tagpait, Aborlan.

Now, community members harvest timber from sturdy mangrove species of Xylocarpus sp. and poles of Rhizophora spp. Every time they harvest wood or timber, they immediately replace this by planting a corresponding number of mangrove propagules.

Aside from being able to satisfy the community members’ lumber needs, they have now a sustainable source of nutritious food from wildlife supported by the mangrove forest. Occasionally, people come around and trap or gather crabs, shrimps, fish, edible shells, tamilok (a shipworm of the genus Teredo which is considered a delicacy by the local folks), among others.

Beside the open area for boats and along the mangroves, the families constructed a pathway made of bamboo, sturdy mangroves and planks of wood. It is here where hook-and-line fishers and gleaners pass through. This also serves as a pathway for visitors, who come to visit the man-made forest and enjoy the food served by the community members. They charged corresponding fees for the use of cottages and services.

Future Outlook

The use of mangroves by the Tagpait fisherfolk adheres to the principle of the sustainable utilization. However, encroaching individuals from other communities sneak and cut some trees for their own use, threatening forest integrity. There is a felt need among the fisherfolk to address this problem.

Despite this threat, the mangrove afforestation in Tagpait, Aborlan demonstrates that long-term benefits can be derived from long-term initiatives to enhance the coastal ecosystem. Taking the family-based approach in creating an ecosystem that mimics a natural ecosystem is an effective tool in engaging communities towards the goal of natural resource conservation. The family has “property rights” over the resource thus prevent its abuse. The economic benefits that arise from a protected ecosystem further strengthen the need for people to use the natural resources in a sustainable manner.

Replication of the community’s experience in Tagpait, Aborlan in other places will undoubtedly revive portions of the coastal zone where marine biodiversity thrives. The mangrove trees provide shelter not only to dugongs, sea turtles, monitor lizards, molluscs, among others but also to local and migrating bird species. Mangroves are a powerful form of erosion control, buffer against storms or even tsunami, clean the air through carbon sequestration, filter sediment-laden runoff.

Source:

1. Regoniel, P. A., and E. B. Pacañot (2012). Family-based mangrove afforestation in Tagpait, Aborlan, Palawan:
Sustaining the drive towards sustainable development. Palawan State University Journal. 5, 8-13.

Curiosity and Patience Lead to Learning

Have you seen frogs mating? Maybe you did but not the same as the pair of frogs I have seen. Read on and see what these frogs are. Be curious and have patience and you will surely learn.

Endless Croaking Frogs

I always hear those irritating sounds of frogs croaking just at the back of our house. The sounds are unlike those of the frogs I am used to hearing. They sound not like frogs but like cows, mooing albeit in short bursts of rhyming and alternating low and high pitches.I usually ignore these croaking sounds dismissing them as insignificant as I attend to my responsibility of writing a chapter for a project report. But the persistent frog calls finally got the best of me. I cannot explain the curiosity that pulls me off the chair, make me wear my rubber boots, and see what kind of frogs sound so loud that fills the whole house.Will I see something interesting if I try to explore the source of these exchange of high and low tone calls?Anyhow, I walked under the drizzles holding an umbrella with my left hand while my right hand tucks the camera snugly inside my jacket. It’s not a waterproof camera so I need to make sure it’s dry.

Patience is a Virtue

I listened intently, curious what these irritating frogs look like. I slowly approached the interlink fence right beside the corner of our house, getting ready to encounter anything moving in the pool of water just behind a concrete post. I noticed that the sound gets faint while I approach. These frogs are so sensitive to intruders in their lair that they could sense my approach.Armed with previous knowledge of animal behavior, I stood still next to the post and patiently waited for the sound to resume. My patience, coupled with curiosity, paid off as I noticed a frog bob up the water and made a few bursts of low tones. I took ready to take a shot but it was gone, under the water, in a split second when it sensed I was approaching.I mustered another ounce of patience expecting another opportunity to come. And it did.I saw two frogs appear out of nowhere. The smaller one hopped with effort trying to whisk away (that’s what I thought) the bigger one on top of it. I presume that must be the female frog. There’s something on the riding frog’s mouth that attaches like a vacuum on the back of the one underneath and I could not actually make it out. It’s something sticky, the first I have ever seen. It’s as if the riding frog was swallowing the female which appears to be blind. A whitish membrane covered its eyes.I took a video and some shots of the interesting mating behavior. I provide a video below showing the two frogs as they make their way across rocks and grass. About three-fourths of the way, the frog underneath suddenly jumped bringing along its heavy load.[youtube=http://http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QbzEf6H78iI&rel=0]If the frogs are not that clear in the video, I provide a picture below.
frog mating
Chubby frogs, probably Kaloula pulchra, on a mating ritual.

Eggs on Mouth?

The frog on top has something like eggs (?) on its mouth. Or maybe is it just an extension of its lips? But frogs have no lips, according to a science teacher. I tried to find out what these are using online references but I could not find one. It just says these frogs have very sticky secretions. This must be the main purpose, to cling on top of the female. But I am not quite sure if the one on top is really the male, not the female. A specialist should be able to tell.

This experience just demonstrates that if you have both curiosity and patience, you will discover something interesting. I should add patience as a characteristic of a good researcher. My feeling of excitement going after these frogs was immeasurable. I had an adrenalin rush, trying to get a good shot of a rare moment.

I should have done something further, that is, to catch the frogs and examine what is that thing projecting out of its mouth. I didn’t realize that until now.

Will I have the same opportunity again?

You might want to see a close-up shot of this frog which I already encountered last year hopping its way towards our door. This one is a juvenile.

© 2013 July 23 P. A. Regoniel

Number Coding Scheme: Is It a Good Idea?

Is the number coding scheme implemented in Metro Manila a good policy to reduce traffic congestion? Probably not. Read on to find out why.

The number coding scheme is up again in Metro Manila, this time adding another day ban on the last number of a vehicle’s plate for a specific range of time, i.e., from 10am to 3pm. Is this a good idea at all?

If the intention of the number coding scheme is to reduce the number of vehicles to avoid road congestion, I would say this is a stop-gap measure. In the long term, this would worsen urban pollution as unexpected results can come out of it.

Unexpected Results

I remembered encountering this number coding scheme idea in the textbook authored by English[1] while preparing my lectures for introductory environmental economics students. According to a study conducted in the country (I misplaced my book so I cannot exactly remember the country) that implemented the number coding scheme, the policy produced unexpected results. Instead of decongesting the roads, the opposite took place — more vehicles roamed the streets.

The researchers tried to find out why this happened. They discovered that those who can afford to buy another car did so, to avoid the limitation and the inconvenience of not being able to use their cars on days their plates are banned from the streets. Thus, the roads got all the more congested and air pollution in that city worsened. The added pollution is an externality.

warning

Source: xkcd

Perverse Incentive

In economics, the unexpected result or the undesirable result of a policy is referred to as a perverse incentive. It is never the intention of the number coding scheme to add more vehicles on the road. It occurred because the planners did not foresee that the scheme would encourage vehicle owners to buy another vehicle. They would not give up their convenience, or probably their dire need to use their vehicles daily.

I am not not aware if the Metro Manila Development Authority conducted any study to find out if indeed the number coding scheme had a significant impact on regulating traffic in the major thoroughfares of Metro Manila. It would be interesting to know if the number coding scheme as an incentive was not, in reality, a perverse incentive in the case of the Philippines.

If no study was done to evaluate the impact of the former coding scheme, then obviously, the additional day ban on vehicle plate number is just another guessing game. As I browse feedback on the number coding scheme, I landed on a site that lists the coding scheme as another stupid law.

Perhaps graduate students in numerous universities in Metro Manila may be interested in pursuing this issue as their research topic.

Reference:

1. Field, B. 1997. Environmental economics: an introduction. 2nd edition. New York:
McGraw Hill. 490 pp.

© 2013 July 15 P. A. Regoniel

Competing for Water in Nangalao Island

One of the critical environmental issues that hound small islands is water scarcity. However, not only is the water scarce in such locations but also difficult to access, owing not only to environmental factors but also the attitude of people living on those islands. The experience of a community of fishers living in Nangalao Island is a case in point. 

Impact Assessment

On April 30, 2013, I was one of a composite team of field workers who visited the island of Nangalao, about an hour boat ride from San Miguel poblacion in the municipality of Linapacan in Palawan Province. When the 20-passenger outrigger boat hit the shallows, we have to transfer to a smaller boat towed to the beach by a local fisher until we can step out right to the sand and avoid getting wet.

We have to duck through ropes and wires strung across rows of randomly built houses which occupy most of the beach front. The local government has no zoning scheme so the buildings and houses were in disarray. We have to snake our way through to get to the barangay hall.

My main concern in visiting the place was to assess the impact of a foundation’s various programs implemented in the community for the past six years. The main goal of those programs is to help uplift the living condition of the marginalized fisherfolks whose fishing activities have been affected by the operation of a natural gas project.

What caught my attention was a lady carrying a pail of water across the basketball court, in such a hurry and in an attempt to avoid bumping into teenagers playing on one side of the court.  Thereafter, I saw another group of people carrying plastic containers from the same place the lady appeared. Obviously, they were fetching water from a nearby source.

Network of Water Pipes

This observation puzzled me because I have seen a network of large, black PVC water pipes at the left side of the barangay hall. I asked one of the local government officials to verify if indeed those pipes were intended to distribute water. As expected, he affirmed but noted that those pipes were empty because water flow from source was so weak to fill those pipes for household use.

I thought I would visit the water source to confirm. I asked for a guide to accompany me to the site, which, I discovered, lies two kilometers away.

Water availability is a very important factor to consider when evaluating the productivity of communities. Without water, it will be difficult for people to grow crops and of course, drink clean water to quench their thirst, among other household requirements. How can life be sustained without water?

Thus, I decided to walk all the way to the water source located uphill. That will also be good exercise for me after a few days out of my regular running routine.

The Water Source

The residents obtained water from two sources: one located about a kilometer away from the main cluster of houses, and the other nestled almost on top of a barren hill. My guide, together with another field worker, climbed up the rugged and steep hill devoid of vegetation. A recent fire razed dry cogon grasses (Imperata cylindrica) including a section of the PVC pipes which once funneled water downhill.

What we saw was a surprising, and pitiful scene. Young boys wait patiently for their turn to fill small water containers, with just a stream of water akin to that of a urinating animal. What can you expect in a bald mountain with rocky substrate that cannot hold much water?

scarce water
Boys patiently wait for their water containers to fill at the main water source in Nangalao.

Quarrel on Water Use

We saw a round, cement cistern located a few meters from the fetching area. I climbed by the side wanting to know how much water was in store. I saw the same stream of water from another pipe embedded on the side of the hill barely kept up with water drawn from it.

During rainy days, local folks say the cistern is almost full. Then I said, they don’t need to walk all the way then to the main source.

At that point, the guide told me that this was the situation before. The water pipes had already supplied the water needs of the underlying houses several years back. But residents living next to pipes in the upper elevations diverted the flowing water into their farms. They punched holes in the exposed plastic tubes and got the water for free. As a result, very little water trickled down the line. There were altercations between affected parties. Ultimately, the barangay chairman decided to stop operating the local government’s water services.

Now, everyone took the brunt of the decision. Not only is the water scarce but a natural resource of contention. Access to it is difficult and time consuming (see Opportunity Cost).

If you are a consultant for community development, what would you recommend?

© 2013 July 13 P. A. Regoniel

Cultural Diffusionism: Makeshift Mini-Hydro by the Indigenous People of Sitio Bohoy

Technology can reach remote places and change the way of life of indigenous peoples. Here is an example of cultural diffusionism and acculturation in Sitio Bohoy, a remote place where once G-string clad Pala’wans reside.

I never expected to see a trace of technological innovation in a very isolated place like Sitio Bohoy in the far-south of Palawan Island in the Philippines two years back. More so aware of the fact that those who employ such technology belong to the indigenous people, the Pala’wans, who were once wearing G-strings the last time I recalled seeing them.

How the Mini-Hydro Came to Be

Boyet, a member of the Pala’wan tribe, came up with his own version of the mini-hydroelectric power station to provide electrical power to 15 houses in his community. Together with his friends, he built a dam in a nearby stream made of indigenous materials plus junks he could lay his hands on from the materials recovery facility of a nearby mining company.

The makeshift mini-hydro dam pooled water and produces power when water is released through 6-inch corrugated PVC pipes at the main source, then smaller pipes downstream to increase water pressure. This series of big and small pipes are joined together by rubber strips, probably from worn-out rubber tires of vehicles. A two-inch GI pipe at the end of the pipeline hits the home made turbine attached to a generator that consequently produces electricity at the onset of darknesss until 10 pm. Occasionally, along the length of the pipeline, holes with small hoses inserted in it supply water in the adjoining farms.

makeshift dam
A dam made of sacks, sticks, poles, gravel and sand and reused materials from the junkyard of a mining company in Sitio Bohoy.

Is the mini-hydro an original invention? Of course not, but it arose through simple diffusion of technology.

When our group asked him how we was able to conceptualize the mini-hydro, he simply said “I saw it on TV.” His large television set, presumably one of those cheap, surplus televisions from Japan, once gets its power from a 12-volt truck battery. Now, the electricity generated by the mini-hydro powers the television including a karaoke. This turned the once quiet nights of the community into nights of singing and merrymaking.

Cultural Diffusionism and Acculturation

What struck me upon seeing the makeshift mini-hydro is the influence this technology can impose on the culture of the indigenous tribe – the Pala’wan. Technology diffused to this community through the television gradually worked its way into their way of life, changing their once unique heritage of cultural mores and beliefs.  This is a classic example of cultural diffusionism, defined by Titiev (1958:446) as the spread of a cultural item from its place of origin to other places.

I bring up this issue remembering the discussion I had with an anthropologist during one of the training I attended two years ago. She said that she would like to study the indigenous tribes of Palawan. But I said, those indigenous groups no longer exist, knowing that many of them intermarried with immigrants and citing this particular story.

The Pala’wans have already been acculturated. Theirs is a polluted culture. Wouldn’t you agree?

Reference:

Titiev, M. (1958). Introduction to Cultural Anthropology. New York: Henry Holt and Co.

© 2013 July 6 P. A. Regoniel

Household Adaptation to Climate Change in the Philippines

How do marginalized people living in vulnerable coastal communities adapt to the effects of climate change such as sea level rise? What is an example of this adaptation at the household level? The following article describes one of these interesting adaptations and its implications.

One of the interesting aspects of research is discovering something new. Although a phenomenon has been there for a long time, it becomes a relevant point of interest once its occurrence is viewed more keenly and becomes a subject of discussion.

Take for instance the cross-country research our group conducted last year in the coastal areas of the Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam to document the effects of climate change. One of those inquired in the investigation looked into the adaptation of marginalized fisherfolks to the hazards brought about by typhoon/flooding, coastal erosion and saltwater intrusion.

What I found interesting in this climate change study are the unique ways by which marginalized people try to cope up with changes in their environment. In this particular case that we studied, the fisherfolks’ adaptation to the erosive effects of waves in the gradually advancing seawater was investigated.

We visited three communities (locally called barangays) to find out if there are any signs of initiatives to mitigate the effects of sea level rise. There, indeed, are several interesting adaptations made by fishermen in the tropical regions such as the Philippines. I relate one below.

Household Adaptation to Sea Level Rise

Below is a picture of a household adaptation in response to rising sea levels that erodes the thin strip of land a few hundred meters wide. A series of temporary and permanent houses dot this habitable portion that lies between the sea and the concrete highway running along the irregular coastline.

adaptation to sea level rise
A makeshift structure built of logs, bamboo slats, stones and sand in Binduyan, Puerto Princesa as household adaptation to mitigate the erosive impact of advancing seawater.

I noticed this ingenious way to keep soil from eroding in the beach of Binduyan, a coastal community lying east of Puerto Princesa in the island of Palawan in the Philippines. It may be a common sight to the uninitiated, but to someone who does research this means a lot.

What were the costs involved?

If you will imagine the time, money (although these materials may have been sourced around) and effort devoted by the person to construct this structure, you will be able to appreciate the significance of this adaptation to the life of the builder. Since we are after economic analysis of household adaptations like this, questions like the following arise in my mind:

  • How many people were involved in constructing the makeshift seawall?
  • How much time did it take them to build such structure?
  • What opportunities did they lose as a consequence of working on the structure (see opportunity cost to understand how important this concept is)?
  • What benefits were gained?
  • Did the benefits justify the cost of construction or was it just a waste of time?

Why would this family go to lengths in constructing this makeshift structure made of local materials? It’s unfortunate nobody was there to ask when we passed through as we walked the beach and note down observations. The owners were out somewhere, probably fishing. But these questions helped us design our questionnaire as this visit was part of our scoping activity.

We measured the height of the whole structure. It is 1.2 meters in height! Did seawater rise that high? How many years did it take to reach that level? What is the distance of the water’s edge at high tide from this house since people living in the area took notice of the rising waters?

Questions Lead to Discovery and Informed Actions

Many questions arise as a result of this simple observation. And these questions will propel you to undertake research focused on your specific concern to contribute to the body of knowledge. That, of course, requires publishing your work for others to learn from. Research findings mean nothing if left unpublished.

You may download and read the results of the study I mentioned above from the WorldFish website. It is titled “Economic Analysis of Climate Change Adaptation Strategies in Selected Coastal Areas in Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam.” It is hoped that the findings of this research will aid policy makers in coming up with actions to mitigate the effects of climate change thus reduce costly damage to vulnerable coastal communities.

© 2013 June 30 P. A. Regoniel