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Nature’s gift to Mindanao

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The first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Lanao del Sur is the majestic beauty of Lake Lanao, a beauty beyond compare.



Situated right at the heart of Mindanao, Lake Lanao is the second largest freshwater lake in the country with a surface area of 349.4 square kilometer and a mean depth of 60.30 meters, with the deepest part at 112 meters.



It is fed by four major rivers with only one outlet, the Agus River, which flows northward to Iligan Bay via the legendary Maria Cristina Falls and the Linamon Falls.



A treasure trove of biodiversity being home to a rich variety of flora and fauna including many endemic species of fishes and invertebrates, Lake Lanao is also considered as one of the 17 ancient lakes in the world.



Furthermore, two amazing islets which could be wonders of nature can also be found at the deepest part of the lake. “These islets are standing equivalent to 30-storey building standing straight and how they remained there standing after the earthquake in 1955 that sunk some parts of Tugaya town was amazing, if not a miracle,” expressed Engr. Pipalawan Naga of the Save Lake Lanao Movement.



The center of Maranao’s life and source of Mindanao’s electricity

Aside from its magnificent features, Lake Lanao also plays a vital role in the Maranao society. According to Naga, the lake is central to the history, culture, religion, and livelihood of the Maranao people, which literally means “people of the lake.” It serves as a major source of their food and livelihood, as well as, a venue for religious and cultural activities of communities around its shoreline.



Also, mosques are built along its coasts so that washing or purification is readily accessible to those who will be performing prayers.

Lake Lanao is also the source of hydroelectric power in the entire Mindanao serving as a natural reservoir for the National Power Corporation hydro power plants generating roughly 50 percent of Mindanao’s electricity needs, Naga said.



Lake Lanao in danger?



Information gathered by the Philippine Clearing House Mechanism (CHM) for Biodiversity showed that the endemic species in the lake are in danger of extinction due to the long-term effects of the hydroelectric plants on lake levels and introduction of invasive alien species.



The CHM disclosed in its website that a study conducted by the Mindanao State University in 2006 discovered massive algal contamination due mainly to soil erosion from indiscriminate logging in the watershed and extensive land use and farming in the surrounding areas.



Accordingly, environmental impacts of dams, hydrological alterations, diminishing water flow and pollution are among the other factors that contribute to the deterioration of the lake which, in the long run, may affect the food security and livelihood of communities who are dependent on the lake.



Saving Lake Lanao



Naga said Presidential Proclamation 871 was issued in February of 1992 creating the Lake Lanao Watershed Reservation for purposes of protecting, maintaining and improving its forest cover and water yield for hydropower, irrigation, and domestic use.



One month after, Presidential Memorandum Order 421 was also issued that created the Lake Lanao Watershed Protection and Development Council.



Naga said the council is primarily responsible for the formulation of the implementation plan for the protection and management of the Lake Lanao watershed, the procurement and installation of hydraulic monitoring devices, the establishment of a watershed data bank, the conduct of watershed studies and the preparation of policy recommendations. But, the perennial leadership changes in the council made it difficult to implement its mandate, he added.



On the other hand, the enactment of the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act effectively puts Lake Lanao as an initial component of the NIPAS under the management of Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).



Other initiatives included the signing of memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the provincial government, the DENR in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and the Philippine Environmental Governance Project (EcoGov).



According to Naga, the MOA involved technical assistance on the improvement of the Lake Lanao Watershed management through improved governance consistent with the principles and practices of transparency, accountability, participatory decision-making, and rule of law. He said the technical assistance included a pilot project on forest land-use planning in one of the sub-watershed communities. However, the project was not completed due to the departure of EcoGov but the provincial government is now in the process of completing the project, he further said.



Provincial Governor Mamintal Adiong Jr. said the commitment to environmental issues is among his seven-point agenda to fast-track development in the province.



Action undertaken by administration included the conduct of an Integrated Lake Basin Management Seminar-Workshop aimed at achieving sustainable management of the lake and its basins.



Adiong said the Asian Development Bank also designed a project for Integrated Natural Resources and Environmental Management that included the Lake Lanao Watershed. It aims to reverse the trend of forest degradation and proper administration and management of natural resources. (APB-PIA 10 Marawi City)




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