Stakeholders at the kick-off ceremony of the Green Assessment. (Photo courtesy of Beth Maclang)

Public and private environmental stakeholders in Puerto Princesa City have begun the Green Assessment, a program aimed at rehabilitating forests ravaged by super typhoon Odette.

According to a program briefer, impact on sites like the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (PPSRNP), Cleopatra’s Needle, and other thickly forested areas will be evaluated to see how they can recover from the typhoon’s onslaught.

Dr. Neil Aldrin Mallari, a conservation and ecosystem specialist, designed the program in four parts. Validating satellite imagery and conducting ground validation surveys are the first two steps. The third stage will be data analysis and interpretation, followed by recommendations on how to restore these forests and biodiversity hotspots.

In an interview on Saturday, Mallari said the initiative was formed because it’s past time for the natural environment to be considered in post-disaster evaluation and recovery planning. Similar calamities may occur again as a result of climate change, he continued, therefore the local authorities must be prepared.

“Time and again, rightly so, ay ‘yong nada-damage na facilities, housing, utilities. Ok naman ‘yan, we need that. Pero napansin natin, at napansin din ‘yan ng maraming places across the globe, lalo na ng mga international organizations, ay ang kulang ‘yong pag-assess ng ecosystem,” Mallari said in a phone interview.

He added that protecting nature from natural disasters should also be a priority because many important resources necessary for humans to thrive are dependent on nature.

The program was launched on Friday at the Sabang Wharf in Barangay Cabayugan. Stakeholders who will be implementing the Green Assessment include the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Sustainable Interventions for Biodiversity, Oceans, and Landscape (SIBOL) program, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD), the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (CDRRMO), and management of the PPSRNP.

Mallari explained that they are currently in the second stage of assessments, which means they will be doing on the ground validation of marine and terrestrial areas damaged by Odette. He added that they have already identified areas of concern based on satellite imagery that they have collected. They have also begun training stakeholders for ground validation.

“The first stage is looking at satellite images, before and after Odette. What we’ve discovered is that ‘yong post-Odette, ang laki ng nasira. Within PPUR lang, natira na lang siguro 40 percent of the original forest, at least based on the satellite images,” he said.

He added that Cleopatra’s Needle has 60 percent of natural forest remaining, but gets worse as you go northwards. In Roxas, he said they estimate 90 percent of forest cover destroyed.

“Based on the satellite images, we have a pretty good idea of what the damage was, and we’ll go at the ground level to validate and to see kung kaya bang mag-recover o hindi. On its own, or kailangan ng human intervention,” he explained.

Mallari said that after the May 9 elections, they will begin formulating recovery plans. These include green reconstruction planning, identifying relocation zones, and restoration zones.

“Kapag mayroon na lahat ng information na ‘yan, ihahain sa iba’t-ibang public na stakeholder,” he added.

Odette’s impact to wildlife will also be studied in the ground validation. Mallari explained that they will survey the usual habitats of wildlife too see if they have been damaged, identify survival envelopes, determine where animals have started taking refuge and how to protect these areas of refuge.

Unfortunately, Mallari expects that many of Puerto Princesa’s wildlife will be found malnourished due to the damage to fruit-bearing trees. He also expects that wildlife will start entering urban and residential areas, and one challenge they are seeing is adverse interactions between humans and wildlife.

“We are anticipating massive hunger and malnutrition. Wala namang nagpapa-ayuda o feeding program sa mga wildlife, hindi katulad ng tao,” he said.