Nature-based solutions to flooding, disasters
Like clockwork, the typhoon season and its attendant flooding events inevitably lead to shrill calls to conserve forests and rehabilitate barren upland areas. Similarly, and with increasing frequency, the alarm bells about global warming are sounded. Of course, there is much truth to the link between forests, climate change, and the intensity of floods, as we know from basic ecology.
Indeed, scientists and policymakers worldwide are increasingly recognizing the value of “nature-based solutions” or NbS. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines NbS as “actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural and modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits.” These solutions are based on the well-accepted principle that healthy and well-managed ecosystems provide services and benefits that lead to human well-being. NbS do not necessarily replace “hard” solutions such as infrastructures. Still, they complement and even minimize their use.
Examples of NbS abound. Mangrove forests protect from storm surges and enhance biodiversity while reducing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Forest cover in the watersheds ensures stable water flows and do prevent floods, at least to a certain extent. Tree parks in urban settings attenuate noise and air pollution.
The amount of goods and services from natural systems is not trivial. According to the World Resources Institute, natural ecosystems provide $125 trillion in global benefits a year, giving employment to 1.2 billion people. In the Philippines, a World Bank-supported study showed that one hectare of mangroves provides more than $3,200 per year of direct flood reduction benefits.
However, translating NbS to practice is not always straightforward. The director of the Nature-based Solutions Initiative at the University of Oxford, Professor Nathalie Seddon, and her co-authors (2020) warned that not all versions of NbS are helpful. For example, reforestation programs that use non-native monocultures (one species) could lead to unwanted trade-offs, such as introducing invasive species and loss of biodiversity. Clearly, good intentions are not enough. We must subject proposed solutions to a rigorous and evidence-based development process.
More generally, what we need is science-based, multi-stakeholder action, not knee-jerk reactions that pander to the heat of the moment. For instance, we need greater participation by the private sector and the general public for large-scale efforts to take off. The government can take the lead, but they cannot do it alone. For so long, the state has been carrying the lion’s share in managing and rehabilitating our natural resources. Vast resources, both financial and human capital, are available outside of government if tapped properly. A critical first step is to foster dialogue between the various sectors to explore possible areas of collaboration. Besides, the active participation of local communities and the academe is vital.
The solution to our problems is literally all around us, in natural systems that we quickly take for granted. By working collaboratively, we can explore how nature-based solutions can transform lives and livelihoods.
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Rodel Lasco is a member of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST), Philippines. He is the executive director of The OML Center, a foundation devoted to discovering climate change adaptation solutions (http://www.omlopezcenter.org/).
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