Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning

AI Drives Environmental Initiatives in the Philippines

DENR's Arlene Romasanta on How AI Is Disrupting Natural Resource Management
AI Drives Environmental Initiatives in the Philippines
Source: Shutterstock

While aiming to revamp its decision support system - or DSS - last year, the Philippine Government's Department of Environment and Natural Resources - or DENR - was confident that AI and mapping technology would provide multiple benefits, aside from aiding in accurate and prompt decision-making.

DENR is responsible for the conservation, management, development and judicious use of the Philippines' natural resources, which includes overseeing licensing and regulation to ensure equitable sharing of all benefits. DENR monitors the environment, mining operations, lands, forests and biodiversity. By analyzing data from drone-captured images and detailed topographical maps, DENR makes informed decisions when approving permits.

The overarching goal is to address data silos and promote transparency in governance, said Arlene Romasanta, director IV, DENR, at Information Security Media Group's Southeast Asia Summit. "We wanted to monitor all the transactions and frontline applications being received by our offices, including the regional offices or province offices, and community offices that are visible to our top management," she said.

Romasanta's team developed a DSS with visualization for top management, accessible using a browser. The DSS can process data in real time. DENR also plans to acquire AI-powered tools to facilitate agile development and network monitoring.

AI: Opportunities and Challenges

Among AI's numerous opportunities and challenges, Romasanta is particularly interested in using it to enhance her department's data and predictive analysis capabilities. "If organizations have historical data, which is mostly a minimum of three years, they can use that data to build trends and then they would be able to predict what's going to happen next," she said.

Apart from plans to use AI to create awareness campaigns, Romasanta said her team will likely be able to forecast environmental trends using this technology and plan conservation efforts, disaster response, and resource management. "Since we do descriptive, predictive and prescriptive analytics using AI, it can lead to cost reduction - in terms of inputs to our budgeting and planning."

The shortage of AI skills necessitates investment in upskilling and reskilling, she said, when speaking about the challenges of AI adoption. "People also need to appreciate and take advantage of AI capabilities."

While there is a need to develop applications to automate processes, especially for top management, another challenge is the "maintenance and operational costs for running [application] subscriptions," Romasanta said. "If we have AI tools, we can develop our own AI applications and maintain those costs."

"For the smaller organizations, the strategy is to collaborate and partner with other agencies that are leveraging AI for efficiency in operations. They can also use the available tools in the market," Romasanta said when asked about how smaller organizations within Southeast Asia could use AI, particularly those aiming to enhance sustainability efforts or environmental conservation using technology.

Ethical AI Usage

As DENR integrates AI into business operations, it has taken steps to establish ethical AI usage and mitigate potential biases, especially concerning environmental data analysis and policy formulation. "This is a concern for us because there are deepfakes, false information and also biases," Romasanta said. There is also a need to safeguard personal data in compliance with the Data Privacy Act of the Philippines, she said.

The Department strives to comply with the Philippines' national AI strategy road map and has set guidelines for the internal use of technology, such as sharing information or large sets of data. These guidelines also regulate the use of AI for analysis that will affect its beneficiaries.

DENR will soon launch a generative AI awareness program to promote ethical AI use among internal users and top management.

"We will be launching a generative AI program. It will also give the technical team an in-depth understanding of AI," Romasanta said.

Mapping and Drone Technologies

DENR uses mapping technology to aggregate large datasets such as transactional data, maps, coordinates and other essential information for processes, including applications for permits submitted by the department's clientele.

"Our internal geoscience department uses these large datasets for human intervention analysis. The data analysis combined helps us draw actionable insights," Romasanta said.

While this has helped in the generation of reports, the company is also able to engage its stakeholders to comply with all the rules and regulations of the department, Romasanta said.

Aside from mapping, DENR uses drone technology for gathering and analyzing image-related data, particularly to monitor and manage forestry, marine protected areas, and other environmental areas that are under departmental jurisdiction.

"We are looking at the use of spatial data that are map-based and combined with the images captured by drones. This can create a good amount of data that will be processed and analyzed, especially in applications for the environment," Romasanta said.

The analyzed data can support top management with decision-making, in terms of future planning, prioritizing programs, developing strategic trust and goals, and determining future investments.

DENR's adoption of AI, mapping and drone technologies has significantly enhanced its environmental monitoring, data analysis and resource management capabilities, while addressing ethical concerns through awareness programs and guidelines.

About the Author

Brian Pereira

Brian Pereira

Sr. Director - Editorial, ISMG

Pereira has nearly three decades of journalism experience. He is the former editor of CHIP, InformationWeek and CISO MAG. He has also written for The Times of India and The Indian Express.

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