The forum tackled government initiatives to address the water challenges in the Philippines
The rising challenges of water insecurity exacerbated by increased economic activity, climate change, and rapid population growth in both national and international levels has reached alarming degrees. To give a clearer picture, the Philippines is projected to be *highly water stressed by 2040 according to the data of the World Research Institute. The use of innovative solutions to address these challenges, particularly by concerned government entities, have become imperative in this age of advanced technology and this was the focal discussion in the Water Challenge Forum 2017 held at Marriott Hotel Manila last June 14, 2017.
*Baseline water stress, as defined by the World Research Institute in the Aqueduct 2.0 project, measures the total annual water withdrawals (municipal, industrial, and agricultural) expressed as a percent of the total annual available flow. Higher values also indicate more competition among users.
Members of government entities echoed weak resource management and overlapping laws as the main challenge faced today by the Philippine water sector. Senator Loren Legarda, a known environmental activist and a champion for sustainable and equitable use of natural resources, claims overlapping and fragmented regulation to be a factor that hinders the enactment of a doable and long-term solution for water shortage. She stressed in her keynote speech the need to consolidate the 30 water-related government agencies and craft a roadmap for sustainable water use. As the Senate Committee Chairman on Climate Change for the 14th - 17th Congress, she has principally authored laws such as the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act (RA 9003); Climate Change Act (RA 9729); and the Renewable Energy Act (RA 9513) to help concretize environmental efforts in combating climate change, the latter being a significant factor in all water-related disasters. She also shared the Senate’s recent approval of the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System or ENIPAS Act which will not only hasten the declaration of 100 protected areas in various parts of the country, but will also conserve the biodiversity thriving therein a demonstration of the chamber’s efforts to contribute in this endeavor.
Moreover, with agriculture as one of the top industries in the country, Dr. Sevillo David of the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) maintained that water security is crucial for the agricultural sector since 79% of water in the national and regional levels are allocated for irrigation. El Niño, aggravated by climate change is still a threat in this sector, as well as groundwater contamination, surface water pollution, and watershed degradation. Dr. Sevillo directs the root of it all to weak resource management, inadequate water facilities, and the lack of science-based data and information for effective planning and decision making. To address these challenges, the NWRB conducts Water Resources Assessments as a tool for a science-based decision making and an Information-Education-Communication (IEC) Campaign on Integrated Water Resource Management. As a policy-making body, NWRB is also in-charge imposing the standards for water resource and utilities regulations as mandated by the law.
Lastly, in the context of Manila, Undersecretary Maria Catalina Cabral of the Department of Public Works and Highways revealed that acquiring the right of way has been hampering further developments, including flood control. However, several projects in partnership with the private companies have paved the way for innovative solutions. Citing an example, Dr. Cabral shared the Fort Bonifacio Global City’s use of a Detention Tank wherein storm water is temporarily retained to prevent direct discharge to waterways. The initiative of the DPWH to treat Estero de Paco in Pedro Gil has also led to drastic developments in the community.
As the Philippine Government strives to explore new methods and make use of technological advances to address water challenges, there is still so much to work on. This is where the value of the private sector comes in, where financial and industrial aid helps expedite projects and find best solutions are made possible.