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Land use planning: Key to disaster risk management

The Philippine Star
Updated Jan 22, 2012

MANILA, Philippines – The issue of poor land use planning is being left out in the current discussions on why disasters keep happening in the Philippines.

According to Dr. Walter Salzer, director and principal advisor of the ?Environment and Rural Development Program (ERDP) of the ?Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), increasing threat of climate change and the effects of disasters being felt every year in almost all areas of the country highlight that land use planning, use and management, is not only about physical planning, but also makes sense on the social and human aspect.

Land use planning, Salzer insists, is a very important instrument in disaster risk management.

The goal of land use planning for disaster risk management, he explained, is to achieve a utilization of land and natural resources which is adapted to local conditions and needs, and takes into account disaster risks.

Natural hazards such as floods, landslides or even earthquakes become disasters when people and physical infrastructures are not able to cope with it.

The devastation, Salzer said, is explained not only because of the country’s exposure, but also by the vulnerability of the Philippine society.

This vulnerability is further worsened by the lack of prevention and preparedness, or appropriate emergency management systems which leads to various losses – human life, structural and financial.

The resulting loss, ranging from minimal to life-changing, Salzer said, depends on the capacity or resilience of the affected communities to support or resist the hazard.

Land use planning and management, or lack thereof, Salzer stressed, is a key underlying cause that needs to be brought to the forefront.

The poor’s existence, Salzer elaborated, is greatly interlinked with their environment. Their options of where to settle and obtain their livelihood from are limited. Their options of settlement are often limited to marginalized locations like riverbanks, steep slopes or near coastal shores. When disaster strikes, they usually do not have the resources to recover quickly.

Salzer pointed out that there are nearly 100 million Filipinos of whom close to 30 million reside in rural areas in a state of poverty.

The resilience of the lands, from which they depend on for food, shelter, water and livelihood are, thus, weakened, Salzer observed.

Natural protections such as forests and mangrove swamps may be destroyed or damaged through unsustainable resource exploitation.

Poverty, hunger and settlement on hazardous land are induced by increasing demand on water sources, soil fertility and natural resources.

Land administration, Salzer pointed out, involves protecting the remaining forest cover of the country.

But “land” in its broadest definition, Salzer said, extends from “ridge to reef”, and each type of land, from forest land, lowlands and coastal areas, require mandated plans, that determine these areas optimal use and management.

To minimize flooding risks, Salzer said, the whole watershed area needs to be looked at. In order to minimize water run-off, forests or forest-like land use systems needs to be restored or other adequate water conservation measures need to be put in place.

At river deltas, like the ones in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, Salzer said, a good portion need to be reserved for the undisturbed water flow or the river beds need to be regulated in a way that excess water can easily drain into the sea.

Unprotected settlements close to rivers must be avoided by all means or adequate protection wall should be established.

Good land use and planning, the ERDP director said, are essential for the prevention of disasters. Good land use planning is comprehensive, it determines various sites in a city and municipalities: boundaries of different types of lands, settlements, livelihoods (agriculture and economic areas) and provides the means for services and infrastructure.

Absence of a comprehensive land use plan, Salzer warned, can lead quite literally to a disaster: socially, economically and environmentally.

Good land use and planning brings many other benefits. It provides the best investment options for land and water use; helps preserve ecological balance to sustain food security and economic growth, and provides for local revenue generation, investment budgeting and expenditure management, and monitoring to implement projects.

Most importantly, Salzer said, in light of typhoon Sendong and various other calamities that have caused great losses, good land use and planning reduces illegal use of land, conversion and destruction.

GIZ is a federally-owned enterprise that supports the German government in the field of international development cooperation.

For more than 30 years now, GIZ has been cooperating with Philippine partners in strengthening the capacity of people and institutions to improve the lives of Filipinos in this generation and generations to come.