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Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Philippines to the United Nations
The Philippines commends and congratulates the Secretary General for his report on agenda item 71, entitled “Strengthening of the coordination of the humanitarian and disaster relief assistance of the United Nations, including special economic assistance,” contained in document A/62/87. It fully concurs with his conclusions and recommendation, in light of the severity of natural disasters which may be associated with climate change; and the need for special focus on developing countries, especially their vulnerable peoples on account of their difficulties in facing the immediate effects of these disasters and their constraints not only in mitigating the inevitable consequences thereof, but also in finding measures and adopting strategies that would make their adaptation to such consequences a less painful experience while at the same time working to ensure preparedness for future occurrences.
The Philippines takes particular note of the Secretary-General’s report on humanitarian assistance and rehabilitation for the Philippines, contained in document A/62/310. My delegation is grateful for the comprehensive narrative of the assistance rendered by the United Nations to the Philippines in connection with the oil spill from a tanker off the southwestern coast of the Province of Guimaras, in Central Philippines, on 11 August 2006, a province close to my own province of Cebu. I was still in the Philippines when this tragic incident occurred. It was an unprecedented maritime disaster that caused irreparable damage which would take years to repair and for the affected areas to recover. The Philippines further takes note of the recommendations and conclusion, which no doubt would give a strong message for the international community’s continued positive humanitarian considerations.
The Philippines expresses its gratitude to the Secretary General for this report on the Philippines, and puts on record its debt of gratitude to all those who immediately responded and provided assistance to the Philippines, both bilaterally and through the UN system, particularly through the UNDP and UNICEF, in the post-disaster rehabilitation.
The rapid needs assessment mission, led by the UNDP, involving the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the Office of Civil Defense of the Philippines drafted an early recovery assessment report which proved to be an immeasurable guide to the measures to be taken. All the help extended to the Philippines, especially those directly affected by the oil spill, lessened the tragic impact of the disaster. It has been said that gratitude is the language of the heart. In this regard, the Philippines’ heart is full of that.
However, the report of the Secretary-General concludes in paragraph 60, page 13, as follows:
“There is still significant need for additional support in achieving the longer-term objectives that include: full restoration of the damaged environment; further development and strengthening of alternative livelihood programs; improved disaster risk management; preparedness and mitigation to build disaster-resilient communities; and promoting development in the tourism sector.”
Over a year after this unfortunate calamity, the Province of Guimaras, its people and economy are still far from regaining the normalcy of life and the promise of a bright future.
The oil retrieval operations from the sunken hull of the MT Solar 1 ended in April of this year with less than 5,000 liters of bunker oil recovered out of a total of over 2.1 million liters. This means that almost the entire load of oil was dispersed in the pristine waters off Guimaras. It seems difficult to describe this large amount of 2.1 million liters as merely an ‘oil spill,’ and unlike a ‘spill’ that can be easily cleaned up, its pernicious effects will continue to be felt for many many years ahead.
We need not dwell on the obvious environmental and human respiratory-related health impacts of the polluting oil. It should be noted, however, that the first rapid assessment of the oil spill conducted by the University of the Philippines in Visayas also found significant psycho-social effects on normal living conditions engendered by the loss of habitat and strenuous clean-up efforts. The long-term effects on human health and the environment have yet to be evaluated or accounted for.
In terms of the economy, the most direct effects of the oil spill remain the loss of livelihood for the affected population.
A recent study presented at the 9 th National Symposium on Marine Science last month revealed that there has been a 65% drop in fish abundance in the waters of Guimaras since the event in August 2006. The Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources and mangrove experts also reported the death of at least 600 mature trees in mangroves that serve as breeding and feeding grounds for fish. These findings seemingly validate the observations and complaints of the fisherfolk and residents in the affected areas that their fish catch has substantially decreased.
The local tourism industry also has not recovered from disaster as tourist arrivals have dropped from numbers in previous years. Even though only an estimated 20% of beach tourism was actually affected by the oil spill, other destinations on the island suffered due to the impression that the entire island was contaminated by oil sludge.
Unfortunately, even the indemnification given by the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund has been described as being insufficient in amount and coverage.
Despite this sad and painful reality I have just described, there is also much to be said for the optimism and resolve of the local authorities and the people of Guimaras to rise above the adversity.
The international community and the national government have put in place plans and programs to help speed up recovery, and PETRON, the company whose oil has caused these problems, remains fully engaged in the healing process. It is hoped that after hearing its name mentioned here, PETRON will do more.
My delegation hopes that the international community and the United Nations system will continue to render assistance and provide guidance as needed for the full recovery of the environment and people of Guimaras. What they will do will also provide hope to States and people who suffer natural or man-made disasters.
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