Is Cebu heading to an ecological crisis?

FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras (The Freeman) - June 14, 2016 - 12:00am

The recent "El Niño" which brought about a severe water shortage that affected the farmers and even the households in the town and in the cities, and the floods that come when the rainy season follows the dry season, exposed the vulnerability of Cebu to ecological problems that may lead to a crisis and a disaster if not addressed.

Global warming is now a reality and the changing and more severe weather patterns have made it necessary for major provinces and cities in the Philippines to have disaster control and mitigation offices in place. Along with these more obvious and tragic environmental issues are contributory ecological problems like topsoil erosion, ground water/seawater pollution, air pollution and excessive garbage. All these are confronting Cebu now and will reach crisis levels in as early as 10 years.

Rio de Janeiro a most beautiful city in Brazil have been in the news very often as the 2016 Summer Olympics will be held there in a few months. More recently it got more press coverage due to pollution of the waters fronting Copacabana and Ipanema beaches which will be the site of the swimming marathon events of the Olympic games, and the swimmers are worried about the quality of the sea waters that they will be swimming in.

Some seven years ago, I was in Rio for a business conference and I really took the time to swim in both Copacabana and Ipanema, and the waters were clean and clear but cold. Now they have warnings to the beachgoers when the waters really look bad. Without going too far, we have had the same problem in the Boracay waters and of course the polluted Manila Bay waters. The Brazil and the Rio government is setting a timetable to have the Rio beach waters clean by 2035, which is 20 years from now. I believe Cebu province and cities should or could do better than this time line.

The waters between Cebu City and Mactan Islands already looks bad, and the addition of other ports in Liloan and Minglanilla, and the third bridge may contribute to the deterioration of the seawater quality. The beach waters on the eastern side of Mactan islands, where most of the resorts are located are still clean but not as clean as it was 25 years ago, when I use to snorkel and windsurf a lot in those areas. The sea waters in the towns which are 35 kilometers north and south of Cebu City are still okay, but all those within this range are getting murkier. The waters around Camotes and Oslob are fine, so we still have the whales and other attractions, but we should not wait for them to get polluted. The responsible jurisdictions for addressing these problems are the cities and towns covered by Metropolitan Cebu, and the Cebu Provincial government.

We need an integrated and coordinated initiative that includes reforestation, water catchment areas, ground water extraction limitation, waste water treatment plants, solid waste management/sanitary landfills, and waste recycling plants. We have to plant more trees, we have to build more gabion dams, we have to source more surface water than ground water, we have to treat all waste water before flowing them to the sea, we have to recycle more garbage and have sanitary landfills in all cities. While these may seem a lot to do, all progressive and livable cities in the first to the third world are already doing them.

Most American and European cities are doing them and Singapore and the resort cities of Thailand like Phuket and Langkawi are also doing them. I am citing these places because I have seen them personally when I was connected with Metro Cebu Water District, and we studied their water treatment plants and other environmental projects. Cebu province and the metropolitan cities are actually doing some of these projects and programs, but they are on a piecemeal basis and severely inadequate. 

With the recent elections and with the new and reelected national, provincial, and city officials, this might be the right time to make a go for the overall comprehensive environmental/ecological projects for Metro Cebu.

Air pollution while a tangential problem to the water problem, also contributes to the water pollution. Suspended particulates settles on surface water surfaces but is eventually filtered in the water treatment plants. Mass transportation, car ownership regulations, and industrial/coal power plants locations will mitigate air pollution as they are doing in the booming cities of China. Cebu Province and City are starting to do these now, but we are quite behind schedule and have to play catch up if we have to maintain Cebu as a livable place.

Twenty five years may be beyond the lifetimes of some of our responsible government officials and of some of us, but we owe it to our children and our grandchildren to leave them an environmentally cleaner living space than when we arrived.



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