Thursday, November 29, 2007

Indians show the way to forest conservation

By F. C. Payumo - Inquirer

Recently I read in a travel magazine about how the Amazon Indians are using Google Earth, Global Positioning System (GPS) and other technologies in protecting their rainforest and preserving their history and cultural traditions. Curious to know more, I logged on to Google and learned that the Surui Indians and other tribes are aided by improved satellite images not only in keeping tabs on loggers and miners but also in cataloguing medicinal plants, hunting grounds, ancestral cemeteries and sacred sites.

“We want people to know that these territories are not just empty swaths of green as seen by satellite, but the homes, supermarkets, museums, libraries of a people who depend on these areas for their survival,” said Vasco van Roosmalen of the Amazon Conservation Team (ACT). “Google Earth is used primarily for vigilance. Indians log on and study images, inch by inch, looking to see where new gold mines are popping up or where deforestation is occurring. We offered the Google Earth team a list of coordinates where it would be helpful to have sharper images.”

I wondered if we could do the same thing in our country. So I clicked on Google Earth and zoomed in on the forest in Subic and Bataan. While I could see clearly the airport and buildings in the Subic Bay Freeport and had fun looking for the rooftop of my house, huge areas of the forest in Bataan province were a blur. And they were not real-time images (there was not even a trace of the ongoing Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway construction). But I am sure the government or the World Wildlife Fund can ask Google Earth for updated and sharper images just like ACT did for the Amazon Indians.

I also went to the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) to ask how we use satellite images. I was told that we have infrared maps that can be a powerful tool in protecting our environment. But we have not seen the Department of Environment and Natural Resources or the local officials use them. To begin with, the maps cover only certain areas and are not updated. It was only the Bataan forests that had images taken both in 1989 and 2002, but none in 2007.

Still, the snapshots show graphically what occurred over 12 years around Mt. Natib and Mt. Mariveles. The infrared images show the thick vegetation in crimson color. Since it takes a trained eye to spot the changes, I asked a helpful officer of NAMRIA to point out the areas of degradation by encircling them. He encircled a total of seven areas that had been deforested.

Wouldn’t these and similar images of the country’s protected areas serve the cause of environment protection if posted yearly in the provincial, municipal and "barangay" [village] halls, and published in newspapers rather than kept in government archives? More eyes watching -- from the public, the NGOs, etc. -- will put pressure on the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and local officials from the provincial down to the barangay level. A performance-based evaluation can be done more objectively with these images than with any self-serving reports from the forest rangers or ground patrols.

This can be a practical contribution to the Conference on Climate Change held in Albay province by Gov. Joey Salceda. Although the Philippines is not in the league of the United States, Europe or China in terms of carbon emission, it is one of the most threatened among the world’s biodiversity hotspots. And since, according to Conservation International, deforestation is responsible for one-fourth of all greenhouse gas emission -- more than double the amount from the world’s cars and trucks -- it is through forest conservation that we can contribute to the fight against global warming.

The Amazon Indians have shown us the way. Whether in harnessing the benefits of satellite, cyberspace or the airwaves, we can emulate how they employ technology. Our officials want to spend P16 billion for the National Broadband Network and P24 billion for Cyber Education, while the Amazon tribes make use of satellite services for their rainforest protection free. And Google Earth is more than happy because it reaps good publicity.

We read that the Department of Transportation and Communications, after having abandoned the National Broadband Network (NBN) deal with ZTE Corp., is still bent on spending money for the broadband by inviting the telecom companies to bid. I thought the issue is precisely whether or not the government needs to have a dedicated connectivity, given that private communications backbones already serve 98 percent of the population.

With respect to the use of technology in education, why spend P18 billion of the total P24-billion Cyber Education budget for separate connectivity alone? Why not make use of the other NBN -- the government NBN-4 television station -- to broadcast the lectures of so-called expert teachers? An hour a day, five days a week should be set aside by the station to telecast such lectures not only to the students in schools but to the out-of-school youth and adults in their homes. If the content is anywhere close to the quality of the programs of Knowledge Channel, this distance-learning program would even help push the government TV channel’s rating one notch up!

In the areas not reached by NBN-4, there are the 1,501-strong cable TV operators to play the DVDs on their community channels. Finally, to the very few remaining schools that are too remote to be reached either by regular or cable TV, DVDs of the lectures can be sent.

Is this an Indian solution? Maybe, but that’s what we need.

No comments: