Senate Bill No. 651: National Coastal Greenbelt Act

Last year, super-typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) hit Eastern Visayas and left thousands of people dead.  Millions more became homeless and now, are struggling to cope with the loss of loved ones, life savings and livelihood.

Previous storms, Ondoy, Pablo and Sendong have wrought havoc to other cities and provinces in the past half-decade, crippling the economic and social development of the Filipino people. The Philippines is battered by more than 20 typhoons a year, with an increasing number in the super-typhoon category.  These could bring as much damage as Yolanda. The losses attributed were caused by storm surges and strong winds coming from the open ocean.  In the age of global climate change, this has unfortunately become the new normal.

The poor coastal communities’ natural exposure to storm surges and lack of resources for preparation and recovery make them most vulnerable.

It is imperative to think of innovative, sustainable and cost-efficient ways for Filipinos to protect themselves, their properties and communities from the devastating impacts of natural disasters.

The Philippines is taking great strides in disaster preparedness. Recent laws created the Climate Change Commission (R.A. No. 9729) and strengthened the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (R.A. No. 10121).  In addition, the People’s Survival Fund (R.A. No. 10174) was created to support adaptation activities of local governments and communities to increase their resilience.

Disaster preparedness comprises a whole suite of items, such as early warning systems, elevated shelters, hard engineering (e.g., breakwaters) and green engineering/infrastructure.

An establishment of greenbelts of mangroves and beach forests along coastlines is a proven green engineering intervention. As the Philippines’ 36,000 km coastline is among the longest in the world, coastal greenbelts effectively mitigate the damaging impacts of waves and storm surges. Some of the scientifically proven benefits are:

  • Wave height of wind and swell waves can be reduced by 13-66% over 100m of mangroves;
  • Storm surge attenuation of 5-50 cm. per kilometer width of mangroves;
  • Surface wind waves can be reduced by more than 75% over one kilometer of mangroves;
  • 50% reduction in storm surges by a 7-km band of mangroves.

Furthermore, coastal forests can reduce the force, depth and velocity of a tsunami, lessening damage to property and reducing loss of life.

Coastal greenbelts are also cost-effective for disaster preparedness in the long term. The total valuation of mangroves is estimated at US$14,000-16,000 per hectare, of which about 80% is for coastal protection value. The cost of establishing coastal greenbelts to protect against storm surge and tsunami would only be a fraction of the damages that could be brought by the yearly battering of typhoons.

A number of existing laws, policies and regulations on mangroves have been issued over the years resulting in a fragmented and conflicting policy environment. This bill aims to come up with a strategic program to rationalize the development of mangroves and beach forests for coastal protection; it is anchored on a comprehensive policy framework that addresses the fragmented approach in the past.

Establishing the National Coastal Greenbelt Program shall provide the agency mandates, funding, and general guiding principles for implementing a science-based and cost-effective program. The proposed National Greenbelt Program mandates establishment of 100-meter protection zones, initially for the Eastern Pacific seaboard, where typhoons make landfall. This Program can also reap added benefits. The establishment of science-based coastal greenbelts is expected to protect biodiversity, improve fisheries productivity, and enhance the tourism and livelihood potential of the area. Transforming vulnerable coastal villages into highly resilient and sustainable communities is a step towards a nation that is inclusive for all.

In view of the foregoing, immediate approval of this bill is earnestly sought.

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