General Santos Wants to Be ‘Green City of the South’

Date Published
November 24, 2022

GCAP is vital for General Santos because of the challenges it faces from rapid urbanization and climate change. Photo credit: Courtesy of RobSison Videography

General Santos City wants another title under its belt, apart from its moniker as the “tuna capital of the Philippines.”

It aspires to be “the green city of the south,” a vision it has been pursuing by developing a policy environment for green and sustainable development, evident in various local laws that promote climate change adaptation and mitigation and disaster risk reduction management and are integrated into various development plans and investment programs.

A new plan that integrates and focuses the city’s green investment plan for the short, medium, and long term is now in place that can help the city achieve this vision. The plan was developed by a team under the guidance of the City Mayor’s Office and with technical assistance from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

Putting plans into action

Called the Green City Action Plan (GCAP), it details specific and localized plans for green development and investment, and covers urban management and institutional aspects, capacity development, and financing, as well as performance-monitoring indicators. It incorporates many of the city’s plans to make General Santos clean, green, and livable for its residents. The GCAP program is under BIMP-EAGA’s Green Cities Initiative, which seeks to enhance city management’s capacity in integrated planning and management of urban infrastructure.

The plan identified six big-ticket projects that each cost more than a billion pesos. The biggest project is a plan to develop alternative sources of water supply at an estimated cost of P9.7 billion ($1.69 billion). It is among the projects that received the highest priority. Other big-ticket projects include a waste-to-energy facility (P8.6-billion), river esplanade and baywalk projects (P3.6 billion), sewerage treatment plants (P1.687 billion), a solid waste management system (P1.32 billion), and public utility vehicle modernization program (P1.2 billion).

These projects also received the highest priority: construction of a floodway and diversion channel at two barangays (P70 million); construction of drainage systems in five barangays (P376.25 million); construction of additional wastewater treatment facility (P10 million); establishment of a septage management program (P215 million); installation of streetlight, powerlines, and poles for LED lights (P6.3 million); tricycle operation rationalization plan (P79 million); mangrove forest management (cost to be determined); installation of solar-powered LED streetlights (P70 million); establishment and institutionalization of an incident command system for disasters; and establishment of an early-warning system for disasters (P25 million).

GCAP is vital for General Santos because of the challenges it faces from rapid urbanization and climate change. Its economy also depends a lot on its landscape and seascape, and its urban development is greatly affected by the conditions of its surrounding mountains, rivers, and coastline.

According to the report, the city faces risks due to climate change effects such as drought, earthquake and ground shaking, typhoons, flooding, flash floods, storm surge, sea level rise, soil liquefaction, soil erosion, rain-induced landslides, and volcanic eruption.

The plan seeks to address these challenges with focus on water supply, sanitation, flood management and drainage, solid waste management, transport, built environment, and energy.

Water supply
General Santos has inadequate supply of safe, clean water mainly due to incomplete water service connections, overdependence on groundwater sources, inadequate water quality monitoring, climate change, water pollution, and lack of alternative water supply methods.

The plan prioritized developing alternative water supply sources and improving and expanding the city’s existing water supply services. The plan also proposed constructing water treatment facilities and establishing a monitoring facility for water quality.

Although 90% of the households in the city have sanitary toilets and basic sanitary facilities such as septic tanks to treat their domestic wastewater, General Santos does not have a sewerage system. Effluent from septic tanks is mostly discharged to the street drainage system or directly to the ground. Compliance with septage public ordinance is also weak.

Developing septage facilities and equipment and constructing more public toilets as well as starting an information and education drive are among the priority projects named under the plan.

Flood management and drainage
Floods and flash floods are an annual occurrence in General Santos as it is situated downstream of four major river systems. The floods are also blamed on inadequate flood control and mitigation and drainage systems and weak interlocal government integrated river basin and watershed management.

Under the plan, the city plans to build and rehabilitate flood mitigation structures and small water impounding projects; improve the city’s drainage system; and rehabilitate watershed ecosystems.

Solid waste management
The city generates about 300 metric tons (t) of waste per day. However, waste reaching the city’s sanitary landfill is only 80–90 t/day, of which only 20 t/day are processed. The garbage collection efficiency is at 45%. Public compliance with solid waste ordinance is also poor.

The GCAP proposes investing in new waste management equipment; developing alternative methods of waste disposal; and strengthening information and education campaign.

Public transport is dominated by tricycles serving the majority of the transport needs of commuters. The number of tricycles grows by 3% per year. As a result, capacities of roads are reduced, violations on road use go unchecked, congestion worsens, and air quality continues to deteriorate. There is also low interconnectivity of the road network, weak enforcement of traffic management measures, weak public transport structure, and lack of parking areas and facilities for nonmotorized transport.

The GCAP prescribes prioritizing efficient public transport modes (e-jeepneys and hybrid minibuses) in the short term; establishing safe walking networks and nonmotorized ways (e.g., bike lanes); reducing traffic demand; and implementing effective traffic management measures. 

Built environment
The city is faced with unbalanced and conflicting land use and growth of built-up area due to unintended densification of certain areas, urban blight and decay in some areas, rapid growth of human settlements and conversion of open space to built-up area, and encroachment of settlement areas into production and protection areas. There is also inadequate green cover and landscaping in urban areas, overlapping claims in public land and unresolved ancestral domain claims, lack of affordable housing for low-income families, and lack of standards and investments in constructing disaster-resilient houses and resettlement facilities.

The GCAP proposes greening programs and pollution control programs as well as increasing compliance with environmental laws and policies, enhancing green areas around the city, and the conduct of an information drive to promote respect for the city environment. 

About 30% of the city’s population has inadequate access to electricity due to the growing regional demand and limited power supply in the Mindanao grid. There is also a high volume of greenhouse gas emissions due to reliance on nonrenewable sources, lack of an energy efficiency program, and inadequate investments in renewable infrastructure.

The green city plan proposes diversifying the city’s energy sources away from coal. It also recommends exploring renewable energy projects, such as solar power plants, solar rooftops, floating solar panels, and biomass as well as providing incentives to developers of renewable energy projects.

Way forward

The GCAP recommends the following:

  • Maintain the existence of the team which developed the GCAP and continue to support its activities in further validating and refining the plan;
  • Leverage the city’s funds for implementing the priority projects and activities by exploring other potential co-funding sources;
  • Explore possible technical assistance from existing and potential development partners to help undertake projects that require “soft” activities (e.g., project proposals, prefeasibility and business case studies, feasibility studies, detailed design, surveys, training, and capacity building);
  • Participate in forums where green city development strategies, technologies, and best practices are shared among other cities and countries that are similarly focusing on sustainable development.