Why water? Why now?
Two questions are asked because of the recent activities on the water issue: Why water? and Why now? When Sen. Franklin Drilon heard the privilege speech of Sen. Loren Legarda in the Senate on Feb. 6, he said he was very surprised that water had not been getting the attention it deserves for several years now.
There are several reasons why water must be given the highest priority. About 73 people die every day in our country due to water-related causes, or 2,645 deaths a year. Senator Sotto said this was much more than the extrajudicial killings. It is more than 300 percent of EJKs, but gets less than 2 percent of our attention.
Compared to India, which collects more than 60 percent of rainwater in certain areas, we collect only 4 percent. Compared to Indonesia which ranked 27 in a 2016 Asian Development Bank water security study, we were 11 ranks lower at 38. In the same study, we had very poor score of two in five water categories. This study said: “Water problems are caused primarily by inappropriate management practices, rather than physical scarcity of water.”
The lack of competent management and the threat of climate change motivate the private sector to hold several activities tackling the water issue.
For example, the European Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines has followed up its 2014 Water Conference with two Water Challenge Forums this year: one on May 4 in Cebu, and the other to be held on June 14 in Manila. Three challenges are identified: the looming water crisis and the need to provide water access for all; the degenerating water quality and the need for wastewater management, and the worsening flood situation and the need for flood control innovations.
Another example was the Water Alliance Forum on April 24, led by Water Alliance president Gilas Puno and Philippine Business for Social Progress president and former Education Secretary Brother Armin Luistro. Considering inadequate water access, growing demand but not growing supply, and water’s institutional, regulatory and investment frameworks, four action areas are recommended: water for waterless communities, managing water demand by becoming more water efficient, governance and policy reforms, and a research and database with the capacity to process this information for decision-making and policy development.
UPLB Dean Arnold Elepaño points out the need to use the large National Irrigation Authority (NIA) budget effectively. In the last few years, NIA’s annual budget of more than P25 billion had produced an average of 33,000 new irrigated hectares yearly. But 70,000 hectares were lost yearly. This means there were 37,000 less irrigated hectares because new irrigation was prioritized over the more cost-effective repair and rehabilitation.
Several governments have offered help to address our water crisis, such as the European Union, the United States, Japan, and China. On Jan. 20, a Tripartite Water Steering Committee was formed: from the legislature, Sen. Loren Legarda and Rep. Rodel Batocabe; from the executive branch, the secretaries from the Office of the Cabinet Secretary, National Economic Development Authority, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Agriculture, Department of Public Works and Highways, and the Department of Interior and Local Government, and from the private sector, the five-coalition Agri-Fisheries Alliance and the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Seven pre-summits will be held in the next few weeks covering the areas in the ADB study: household, urban, environment, economy and resilience. Two sectors have been added: agriculture and governance.
These will culminate in a national summit where we hope President Duterte will add to his fight against drugs the fight for water security. He can then show his strong and decisive leadership by issuing directives to the government sector and providing directions for the private sector.
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