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Battle of Manila Bay a catalyst for action

On Jan. 27, I was at the Battle of Manila Bay. It was an inspiring event led by Secretary Roy Cimatu. It is a catalyst for united action to address effective water governance on a broader scale.

In that event, I saw the government and the private sector (business and civil society) unite to address the long pestering problem of water. Water affects every sector of society and significantly impacts  our daily lives.

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Bonbon Gomez, a “balikbayan” who returned from a 28- year stay in the United States,  joined a Manila bay cleanup.  He said: “I saw the “bayanihan” spirit in action—something I have missed during my long stay abroad.”

It is this bayanihan spirit of public-private partnership that is now needed to address the bigger picture of our national water crisis. Consider the following water indicators in the Philippines:

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  • 70 deaths every day from water-related causes
  • 67 percent rate of intestinal worm infestation
  • 5.7 million hectares of denuded forest
  • 300,000 hectares of lost mangrove
  • 4 percent rain harvesting (compared to India’s 60 percent in key areas)
  • 34 water-related government agencies not coordinated
  • No full-time personnel or equipment for 18 major river basins with critical watersheds
  • Misallocation of resources
  • Corruption

The Philippines is part of a larger global water crisis. The World Economic Forum has listed water as the biggest global risk in terms of potential impact in the next decade. One-third of the world population lives in water-stressed areas. By 2030, water demand will outstrip supply by 40 percent. Experts said the next big war would be on water, as has been happening in Syria.

The private sector has recently been very involved in holding its own conferences regarding water governance. Examples are the Philippine Chamber of Commerce, Management Association of the Philippines, Water Alliance, Water Links, European Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Arangkada, which is supported by the Joint Foreign Chambers.

Since the agriculture sector consumes more than 70 percent of our water, agriculture-based coalitions have been discussing water issues and their recommended solutions. Examples are: the Alyansa Agrikultura led by Arsenio Tanchuling (42 federations and organizations representing small farmers and fisherfolk), Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food led by Danny Fausto (organizations from 34 different product subsectors representing agribusiness), Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines led by Emil Javier and Ben Peczon (various universities and research institutions representing academe and science), Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Kababaihan sa Kanayunan led by Rebecca Miranda (organizations present in 34 provinces representing rural women) and Agrifisheries 2025 led by Roberto Amores (organizations from different sectors pursuing an agreed upon  agriculture and fisheries vision for 2025).

Already engaged in water projects are the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts of the Philippines, Rotary Clubs and several civic, social and religious organizations. The private sector Movement for Water Security (MWS) provides added momentum to all these efforts. The MWS mission is “to increase and expand private sector initiatives, promote coordination and synergy within the private sector, and fully support government in their programs to achieve water security.”

The Battle of Manila Bay has begun. It should catalyze urgent and united public-private sector programs and solutions to address our water crisis, especially in areas that face the greatest risk from climate change. Carpe diem—seize the day!

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TAGS: Manila Bay, Secretary Roy Cimatu
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