TACLOBAN CITY --
Local environment officials here will push for the complete rehabilitation of the Leyte Sab-a Basin peatland.
"We need at least 15 years to restore natural vegetation of this peatland. It may take longer considering that in the process of restoration, we cannot prevent people from cutting trees and converting the land to agriculture area," said Danilo A. Javier, regional technical director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
Mr. Javier said a two-year project funded by the Global Enhancement Facility, which covers the Leyte peatland, will not be enough to completely rehabilitate the area.
The ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Peatland Forest Project aims to raise awareness on the need to rehabilitate the peatlands and establish community-based demonstration farms.
Aside from the Leyte peatland, the project also covers Agusan Marsh, which may be the largest peatland in the Philippines.
"Land conversion has degraded the peatland. People are not aware that the peatlands cannot sustain agriculture because the soil is not fertile. We are trying to address the problem of lack of awareness on how to manage the swamp forest," Mr. Javier said.
He said some peatlands have been converted to agricultural use by the defunct Leyte Sab-a Development Authority.
The Leyte Sab-a Basin peatland is a large catchment basin with an area of 3,088 hectares, more than half of which has been reclaimed for agriculture.
The remaining 1,740 hectares in the eastern half of the basin consists of small remnant areas of swamp forest and grass peat swamp.
The two smaller peat basins in the area, Daguitan (210 hectares) and Kapiwaran (430 hectares), have mostly been converted to agricultural land.
Armida P. Andres, Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau country coordinator for peatland, warned that if the Leyte Sab-a Basin peatland will not be managed, it will contribute significantly to destructive impact of climate change.
"We should keep this intact to protect us from fire and flooding," Ms. Andres said.
Peatland fires and their associated haze have had the most severe negative impact on the environment and health, she added. -- Sarwell Q. Meniano