If you walk the footsteps of a stranger...
Saturday morning, call time at the office is five o'clock. The group of ten people arriving is still half asleep. Like almost every weekend Kalikasan PNE, the organisation where I'm conducting my internship, organizes a field trip. Today, we will we visit one of the fisher communities in Bulakan, where the new airport of Manila is planned.
The field trips are meant to generate knowledge on the realities in which the people in Manila Bay live, who are or will be (potentially) affected by land reclamation projects as part of the government's 'Build, Build, Build' campaign. Simultaneously, the trips are designed to inform communities about the little that is known about land reclamation projects, as well as about human rights and environmental legislation according to international and national law. "This way, we empower communities to organize and mobilize against development aggression", our team leader concludes her introduction.
There seems to be no clear information or specifics of any land reclamation project including the one for the airport in Bulakan. Will the people have to move? How? When? Where to? And why, really? And if not, how will the airport affect them? These questions are left unanswered by the local governments, the national government and the companies said to execute the projects. The grassroots organizations working with the communities also don't know but recognize the similarities to previous land reclamation projects in the Bay. With the experience of mass relocation to make way for malls and casinos, and with promises of jobs for these communities unfulfilled, they set to work preparing people for the worst.
Village on poles
So, this Saturday morning we jump in a jeepney (old US jeeps, now colourfully painted over). An hour and a half later we are dropped off at a dock and clamber into a bright yellow boat, which will bring us to the village.
The village rests on bamboo stilts. The last typhoon has swallowed the island. It is now solely the foundation on which the bamboo stilts rest. The poles hold up around 80 houses, a small shop and a chapel which is where we gather with 16 people and at least as many children. The attendees are invited to share their concerns on the project and the impacts they imagine it will have on their livelihoods. "We will be as fish on dry land, gulping for air. Literally." One woman says. Discussions are alternated by presentations of the volunteers on environmental topics, human rights and opportunities for action. "Land Reclamation means seagrass and mangroves will disappear" they explain. The public nods. Communities have reported the illegal cutting of around 700 mangrove trees recently. Is the airport project already starting? Maybe. Probably.
Manila Bay, the mangrove bay
Manila is said to be named after a species of mangrove that grew all around the bay, the Nila(d). A tree with flowers of bright white and yellow that swayed in the breeze, waving at visitors coming in and going out of the bay. Manila, 'where the nila(d) is'. Now, the bay boasts a meagre population of the saltwater liking trees and the future seems bleak for this form of natural coastal defense.
After a lunch of rice and fried bangus fish, there are break-out sessions in which women and men are separated. The atmosphere is open and relaxed. Difficult topics are discussed such as rape, a risk women will face with the influx of construction workers to the area. The risk of 'loss of livelihood', is elaborately discussed. Fisherfolk communities are among the poorest of the Philippines. The catch of fishermen mostly consists of crabs which are caught by hand. The women tend to the children. Some sell candies and bread. All in all, the income of a fisherfolk family is around 10 euros per day with which they must feed five or more. Many are afraid that relocation will mean removal from fishing areas. From the age of ten years old, these people have helped their fathers catching crabs. To lose their profession is to lose their identity.
Walking the footsteps of a stranger
As I try to fall asleep at night, in the house of one of the families participating in the workshop, I listen to the seawater sloshing against the foundation of the home which makes us rock a little. If development projects claim to help these people, promising a sustainable future, addressing inequality – we should have learned by now that it is arrogant to think one knows how to improve someone else's life without ever consulting them. Us outsiders, 'we' see how fishing is providing none of these families a living wage. 'We' see women who have no way of sustaining themselves. 'We' see communities that are vulnerable to natural hazards.
But only by going there you can learn that this is a limited perspective full of judgements. Speaking to the people living in Bulakan on bamboo stilts and on the last islands secluded by mangroves, I have learned to see again what is forgotten so often: 'If you walk the footsteps of a stranger, you'll learn things you never knew, you never knew' (yes, this is a Disney lyric). I have learned how grassroots organizations, with next to no resources, are going out to ask what we expect our governments to ask: 'What is your life like? How do you think it could be improved? How can I support you with that, if at all?' Us outsiders might learn that these islands - where daily life is tough and where typhoons hit hard - are worth fighting for.
This blog post was written by Pippi van Ommen, an intern of a Kalikasan PNE (People's Network for the Environment), a grassroots organisation in the Philipines.
Read more about this subject
News / 22 March 2021
An increasing number of stakeholders in the Dutch water sector are acknowledging the importance of an inclusive approach to climate adaptation. However, where our knowledge institutes and companies are involved in delta plans and master plans, as in Bangladesh and the Philippines, this approach is proving difficult to apply in practice. Taking local realities, vulnerabilities and inequalities – such as those between men and women – as a starting point is essential for good plans that give everyone the opportunity to adapt to climate change.
Publication / 4 October 2019
News / 26 July 2021
Both ENDS, together with nine other parties has expressed their concern on the development of a new airport off the coast in Manila Bay, Philippines, where the Dutch company Royal Boskalis Westminster has been contracted for the land development. In a joint letter of concern, different organisations and stakeholders describe the alarming situation around this contested airport that will be built on newly reclaimed land.
News / 5 July 2019
Manila Bay is crucial site for biodiversity and home to over 23 million people, but their wellbeing is at risk due to reclamation projects, which are part of a large-scale top-down masterplan for the bay. It is estimated that more than 11 million people are threatened with displacement due to land reclamations and related disaster risks. As an alternative, Kalikasan is developing a People's Plan.
Press release / 25 May 2022
Award of export support for controversial project in Manilla undermines the Netherlands’ environmental and CSR ambitions
Dutch export credit agency Atradius DSB announced yesterday that it is to provide export credit insurance worth 1,5 billion euros to Dutch dredging company Boskalis for a controversial land reclamation project in the Philippines. According to Dutch and international organisations, including Both ENDS, CARE Netherlands, IUCN NL, Kalikasan PNE and Oceana Philippines, the award of export credit insurance for this project runs contrary to the Netherlands' ambitions in the areas of environment and corporate social responsibility (CSR).
Event / 4 December 2019, 15:00 - 16:30
On Wednesday December 4th 2019 Both ENDS together with Heinrich Böll Stiftung from he US organises a side event at the UNFCCC COP in Madrid: Can the GCF Catalyze Inclusive, Gender-Responsive Local Climate Action Globally and in Latin America?
News / 11 January 2019
Clive Chibule from Zambia won the Gender Just Climate Solutions Award at the climate conference in Katowice, Poland. His project "Community strategies for climate-resilient livelihoods" aims at training rural women on leadership and climate resilience. A very important project, as Zambia is already feeling the effects of climate change, and rural women are affected most.
News / 10 August 2021
As a response to the latest IPCC report, the directors of IUCN NL, Tropenbos International, Wetlands International, Both ENDS and the Institute for Environmental Security wrote an op-ed about the role nature policy can and should play in stopping climate change, which was published in Dutch in De Volkskrant of August 10, 2021. Below, you find the English translation of the article.
A Negotiated Approach envisages the meaningful and long-term participation of communities in all aspects of managing the water and other natural resources on which their lives depend. It seeks to achieve healthy ecosystems and equitable sharing of benefits among all stakeholders within a river basin. This inclusive way of working is an essential precondition for the Transformative Practices that are promoted by Both ENDS and partners.
Publication / 4 November 2009
News / 31 March 2020
In these past months, the world has been rocked by a new major threat, in addition to climate change: the rapidly spreading COVID-19 virus. Large efforts are being made in many places to deal with this crisis and, understandably, the concerns about the climate have, faded somewhat into the background. We don't know what the future holds or when the COVID-19 crisis will be behind us, but unfortunately it is certain that global climate change has not stopped by then. This is why, even though so many urgent matters have to be dealt with, we continue to support global climate action.
This Friday April 3rd, global online climate actions will take place. We call on everyone to join and share these actions.
News / 26 November 2019
No fewer than 55 NGO's, foundations and associations, many of whom do not normally deal primarily with climate change, express their concern about the dangers of climate change for everyone and everything in the statement 'The climate belongs to everyone'.
They call for urgent action and support the international Climate Strike taking place this Friday, November 29. In cities all over the world, young and old will take to the streets again. In the Netherlands too, climate strikes will be organised in many cities.
News / 25 September 2019
52 charity organisations, community groups, foundations and NGOs, many of whom are not primarily concerned with climate change, have come together to express their concern about the dangers of climate change for everyone and everything in a joint declaration. They call for urgent action and support the Climate Strike this Friday 27 September in The Hague.
Publication / 2 November 2021
Publication / 8 November 2019
Rich Forests promotes a sustainable and future-proof production system and supports, among other things, the transformation of degraded land into food forests. With this, people provide for their livelihood, increase their income and at the same time restore soil and biodiversity.
Small grants funds offer an effective, alternative way to channel big money from large donors and funds to local groups and organisations that are striving for a sustainable and just society everywhere around the world.
Globally, the area that is suffering desertification and land degradation is ever expanding. Unsustainable and often large-scale agricultural practices, including the copious use of pesticides and fertilisers, are a major driver of land degradation, aprocess that is further exacerbated by climate change, causing more erratic rainfall patterns, longer periods of drought and unpredictable growing seasons. This is very problematic not only for the hundreds of millions of people who directly depend on land and water for their livelihoods, but also for life on earth as a whole. It is clear that this process must be stopped and reversed, better sooner than later. But how to go about it?
Publication / 8 November 2019
News / 14 June 2021
In Manila Bay, a vulnerable coastal area next to the Philippine capital city, a new airport is being planned, with involvement of the Dutch water sector. Local civil society organisations raised their concerns about this airport, which has large impact on the lives of local residents and on the ecosystem.