Sustainable Bicol River

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”Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

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EXPLANATORY NOTE

Sustainability is the key to lasting alleviation from poverty and national

development. Natural resources provide the basic necessities for human existence,

as well as the inputs for economic development. Therefore, it is to our best interest

to develop and use these resources while maintaining their physical integrity and

capacity to regenerate the economic and ecologic values that are withdrawn for

human consumption.

The Bicol River is the eighth largest river in the country, with a total catchment

area of 3,770 square kilometers. It encompasses the provinces of Camarines Sur,

Camarines Norte and Albay, as well as thirty-three (33) municipalities and three (3)

cities. The river spans ninety-four (94) kilometers beginning at Lake Bato and flowing

downstream to San Miguel Bay. The Bicol River System is composed of multiple

tributaries and three major lakes. However, its area of influence is much larger,

stretching about 10,058 square kilometers. The river basin is a vast wetland

ecosystem that is responsible for the main water supply in the region. Moreover, the

river system supports a rich biodiversity and supplies a bounty of materials for

economic use. About two million Filipinos live in the area covered by the Bicol River

Basin.

At present, the river system is faced with numerous challenges that threaten

the agricultural and fisheries industries, biodiversity, and mOre crucially, the

livelihood of thousands of households living along the river basin. This directly

impacts food security in the Bicol region at the most fundamental level. The river

basin also provides ecosystem services such as, water purification, waste treatment,

flood and drought mitigation, soil fertility, coastal salinity maintenance, nutrient

delivery and biodiversity conservation. Moreover, continued decline in the river’s

condition also impedes potential economic and tourism development.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) identified

the Bicol River Basin as one of the eighteen (18) priority river basins in the

country for which comprehensive management and development master plans

are to be formulated. In the 2015 Formulation of an Integrated Bicol River Basin

Management and Development Master Plan prepared by Orient Integrated

Development Consultants, Inc., it was estimated that, over a 15-year planning

period, the total investment requirement to implement the Bicol River Basin

master plan is about PhP31.332 billion. The first five years of implementation will

require PhP8.46 billion while year 6 to year 10 would need PhP13.95 billion.

One of critical elements in the implementation of this strategy is the formation

of the Sustainable Bicol River Development Authority (SBRDA).The rationale for the

creation of the SBRDA springs from the need to take an integrated approach to the

practical issues that beset the Bicol River System today. There is a wide range of

problems that affect the river system. Climate change, soil erosion, waterway

congestion leading to floods, solid and liquid waste contamination, siltation, and

deforestation, are some of its issues.

At present, these problems are addressed separately by the various

government agencies according to their functions. For example, flooding is

addressed by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), irrigation is

addressed by the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), and environmental

degradation is addressed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources

(DENR). In reality, the causes and solutions to these are mostly inter-related.

Arriving at integrated and comprehensive solutions to the river system’s issues,

requires the creation of an organization with goals that cut across departmental

functions and focus on the ecological condition, socio-economic development and

sustainability of the Bicol River.

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LUIS “LRAY” RAYMUND F. VILLAFUERTE, JR.