‘Ompong’ and water basin management
Could ‘Ompong’s’ damage have been minimized with water basin management?
“Of course,” according to DENR’s River Basin Office Director Antonio Dano, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Had adequate support been given to the river basin that spans Benguet to Pangasinan, the damage could have been much less.”
As of Sept. 18, at least 74 lives have been lost; 800,000 people severely affected; and P14.3 billion in agriculture products destroyed.
For 2017 and 2018, instead of the P7 million average proposed for each of our major 18 river basins, only P0.8 million was provided.
The submitted RBO budget was made the same as 2017 and 2018, partly because the total DENR 2019 budget was actually decreased despite climate change.
An ADB publication states that a river basin plan “sets objectives and measures for developing, protecting, and harnessing resources of the basin in order to achieve these objectives.”
It covers critical water sheds, which should use Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM). The Global Water Partnership defines IWRM as “a process which promotes the coordination, development, and management of water, land, and resources in order to maximize the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner, without compromising the sustainability of vital economic systems.”
Out of our 412 principal water basins, 18 have been identified as major.
Each major basin has a well formulated master plan and a public-private multisectoral Water Basin Management Council, with critical local government units taking important leadership roles.
However, the results have fallen far short of expectations.
Dr. Rex Cruz has been working on both the formulation and implementation of six major basins over the last five years.
Currently, he is a leader in the expanded executive-legislative-private sector steering committee for the National Water Roadmap and Summit. He concurs with Dano that, in his experience actually working with six basins, the P0.8M budget per basin with no full time personnel and no instrumentation equipment is woefully inadequate.
Cruz and Dano then jointly proposed a minimum average of P7 million per basin.
This will provide for five full time basin personnel, P3 million for basic instrumentation equipment, and necessary operating expenses.
Had this been given before Ompong occurred, the LGUs, government agencies, and the private sector could have been better prepared with accurate information from the instrumentation equipment, stakeholders mobilized effectively with full time basin personnel, and LGUs coordination done to prevent illegal mining activities (where most of the casualties were found) and provide alternative livelihood opportunities.
DENR should be commended for setting priorities based on criteria like climate risk and poverty levels.
But DENR should get more support from Congress through a higher 2019 river basin budget.
According to Pagasa, four more cyclones are expected before the end of the year, with one possibly causing the same damage as Ompong.
Inadequate water basin management has not escaped the attention of four water conferences held by the private sector in the last two months. These conferences which identified river basin management as a major problem were organized by the Management Association of the Philippines MAP (Aug. 4), the European Chamber of Commerce (Aug. 30), Arangkada with the American Chamber of Commerce and the Joint Foreign Chambers (Sept. 12), and the 30 corporation-member Water Alliance (Sept. 13).
This topic will surely be discussed again in the coming International Water Links Forum (Sept. 27-28).
With all this concern, the Senate and the House of Representatives must now consider providing DENR additional budget support for water basins in the 2019 budget, which Congress is currently deliberating on.
Though we cannot stop future Ompongs, we can prepare better and minimize potential severe damage with better river basin management made possible with adequate budget support from Congress.
Inquirer calls for support for the victims of typhoon Ompong
Responding to appeals for help, the Philippine Daily Inquirer is extending its relief to victims of the recent typhoon Ompong.
Cash donations may be deposited in the Inquirer Foundation Corp. Banco De Oro (BDO) Current Account No: 007960018860 and Swift Code: BNORPHMM.
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