Philippines officials today received the symbolic keys to a donated 200 kW hydro-electric project that, in addition to green energy, will start generating money to halt deterioration of the country's fabled ancient rice terraces.
The massive, spectacular and iconic Asian rice terraces were created on mountainsides largely by hand by indigenous people of the northern Ifugao province at least two millennia ago. Fed by tropical forest springs above, they are popularly referred to as "the stairways to Heaven," and the "Eighth Wonder of the World."
Eighty generations later, the terraces' condition prompted UNESCO in 2001 to include them on its list of World Heritage Sites in Danger.
The $1 million mini-hydro facility, donated by the e8 and located discretely in the Ambangal river downstream of the postcard terraces, will create annually about 1,450 megawatts hour (MWh) of much-needed new energy for the area, meeting 18% of the province's electricity needs, and generating some US $70,000 in annual revenue for the new Rice Terrace Conservation Fund, fully dedicated to urgently needed shoring up of the terraces and related activities.
Developed over four years in collaboration with the Philippines Department of Energy and the Provincial Government of Ifugao, the facility was built and donated by Japan's Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) on behalf of the e8, an international non-profit organisation of 10 leading power utilities from G8 countries.
"This project is an important step towards the successful protection of one of the world's most important cultural treasures - a hope shared by people all over the world," says Carmelita Buyuccan, head of Ifugao's Provincial Planning and Development Office. "It will also help maintain and improve the quality of life for local communities, which we hope will encourage more young people to continue the time-honored culture and practices of rice terrace farming."
Says Johane Meagher, e8 Executive Director: "When this initiative began in 2006, the partners and UNESCO foresaw an opportunity not only to help preserve these historic terraces but to showcase an interesting model of sustainable rural energy development and regional revitalisation, the chance to demonstrate the potential of mini-hydro power generation throughout the Philippines and the region."
The rice terraces are located about 1,500 meters above sea level and cover more than 10,000 square kilometers (about 4000 square miles) of mountainside, fed by an ancient irrigation system from the rainforests above. According to folklore, placed end to end the terraces would encircle half the globe.
Terrace restoration and watershed enhancement efforts, and community irrigation systems, are top priorities for the Rice Terrace Conservation Fund, to be managed by the Cultural Heritage Office of the Ifugao Provincial Government. Applications will also be received related to private enterprise support, cultural enhancement and organic agriculture input production.
A study in 2004 estimated that halting the terraces deterioration would require $US 400,000 per year.
Says TEPCO's Yoshihiro Hatano, General Manager, International Exchange & Cooperation and Ifugao project supervisor: "In other words, we are starting a fund that needs to grow to $400,000 per year simply to stop further deterioration of the Ifugao Rice Terraces. A 10-year project to go beyond and improve the situation requires an estimated US$11.8 million. So, in short, this is an important first step with a long way to go and we sincerely hope this contribution by TEPCO and the e8 will inspire and bring other donors to this important cause."
The first priority is to rehabilitate and restore damaged rice terraces and their irrigation system. The second is to initiate the restoration of terraces abandoned years ago.
The project's development included extensive environmental and social impact assessments. The 10-month construction phase involved over 180 daily workers, in addition to competent supervisory engineers and foremen.
Key to the project's success: Strong local community stakeholder involvement at each phase of development, including several public hearings, surveys and outreach activities to ensure broad understanding, support and empowerment.
In line with UNESCO's recommendations to the governments of the Ifugao Province and the Philippines, the project will not only help finance local terrace conservation, it will also enhance local capacity in -and provide a pilot model for- renewable energy-based rural development.
The e8 will help monitor the Ifugao Ambangal project for two years, overseeing the power plant operations and maintenance activities in close collaboration with the local partners.
Says Ambassador Preciosa S. Soliven, Secretary-General, UNESCO Philippines National Commission: "The building of these rice terraces by hand and with crude tools seems almost miraculous today, completed 2000 years ago -- a time when the population of the entire world was about 230 million, roughly the population today of nearby Indonesia alone. They have been in continuous use ever since."
"The scale of these structures, their cultural and historical values cannot be overstated. We thank TEPCO and the e8 for this contribution and hope that help may arrive from like-minded others worldwide who share our passion to protect and preserve these legendary terraces for the generations to follow".
About the e8
Created in the wake of the 1992 Rio Summit, the e8 is a non-profit international organization, composed of 10 leading electricity companies from the G8 countries, whose mission is to play an active role in the international debate on global electricity issues and to promote sustainable energy development through electricity sector projects and human capacity building activities in developing and emerging nations worldwide.
The e8, in partnership with UN agencies, key international organisations and local partners, contributes to enhancing access to energy for some of the two billion people around the world still without access to this essential resource.
The e8 mission, with the fight against climate change and sustainable development at its core, translates into three key objectives:
e8 General Secretariat
505 De Maisonneuve Blvd. Lobby Level.
Montreal, QC, H3A 3C2, CANADA T: +1-514-392-8876 / F:+1-514-392-8900
AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert! system.