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Assesing peatland’s rich biodiversity in the Philippines

In April, IIRR joined forces with People for Peat – a coalition made up of World Resources Institute Indonesia (WRI), Yayasan Inisiatif Dagang Hijau (YIDH), and Tropical Rainforest Conservation and Research Centre (TRCRC) – in organizing a webinar on peat fire prevention and management and post-peatland restoration. It was attended by more than 200 participants who represented national and local government agencies, academes, NGOs, and civil society organizations in Asia. The panelists were comprised of leading specialists on peatland conservation and restoration in Southeast Asia.

Peat fires are annual occurrences at the Leyte Sab-a Peatland Forest, especially during summer. Persistent agriculture activities (i.e. slash and burn) and draining of peat water contribute to the continuous degradation of the peatland. Peatlands are supposed to be wet in order to absorb carbon in the atmosphere. Once dry, carbon is released into the air and it triggers peat fires, which can spread rapidly and become difficult to control. The key to the effective restoration of peatlands is educating stakeholders on the dangers of peat fires and how to prevent and manage them. In 2019, IIRR convened key agencies (fire department, disaster response agencies, local government units) from affected villages to facilitate in setting up an emergency response and command system during peat fires. Informational materials such as flyers and posters were distributed and set up to educate community members on the dangers of starting fires in the peatland and how and where to report peat fire incidents. A communication campaign reiterated the local legislations against illegal burning in the peatland and the appropriate punishment in place.

Peat fires also destroy the natural habitat of various species in the peatland. This month, IIRR collaborated with the Visayas State University (VSU), in conducting a rapid biodiversity assessment in the peatland, where a diverse range of wildlife species were discovered and identified. The initial results, which are currently undergoing validation by a team of experts, were shared with key stakeholders to discuss policy recommendations that will protect this rich biodiversity. These include the passing and strict implementation of local legislation on strict protection zones and illegal hunting; an establishment of a buffer zone; and the creation of a cohesive strategic local government plan for peatland protection and restoration.

IIRR is implementing this project with the Women Enablers Advocates & Volunteers for Empowering & Responsive Solutions (WEAVERS), VSU, the Environmental Legal Assistance, Inc. (ELAC), through the support of the Forest Foundation Philippines.