People power and water crisis
On Feb. 22, 1986, the Edsa Revolution started. Four days later, People Power succeeded in overcoming the dictatorship. Thirty-three years later, on Feb. 21, 2019, a different kind of people power was started. It was done by 11 top officials (mostly presidents) of 11 large federations and organizations to overcome our water crisis. But this time, it will not take three days but three years to win the major water battles.
The people power groups who converged to support the Movement for Water Security (MWS) come from various sectors, such as agriculture (e.g., Alyansa Agricultura and Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food; industry (e.g., Federation of Philippine Industries and Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry), and nongovernment organizations (e.g. women-Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Kababaihan sa Kanayunan, youth—Boy Scouts of the Philippines, and academe—Coalition For Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines).
Every person uses water. Therefore, each must participate in the battle to overcome our water crisis.
How is this done? First, we must recognize that a water crisis exists. On Feb. 21, the Movement for Water Security stated: “The private sector wishes to sound the alarm by explaining clearly that the water crisis is present globally, and more so, in the Philippines.”
On the global front, the World Economic Forum has identified water as “the largest global risk in terms of potential impact on the next decade.” One third of the world population lives in water-stressed areas. In 2030, water demand will outstrip supply by 40 percent. Experts say that the next big war will be on water, as is happening in Syria now.
On the domestic front, more than 50 persons die every day because of water-related diseases. Nine million have no access to safe water. Damaging floods and droughts are rampant. We have lost 5.7 million hectares of forest and 300,000 hectares of mangroves. We collect only 4 percent of rainwater, compared to India’s 67 percent in certain areas.
In the 2013 and 2016 Asian Development Band water publications, we rank in the bottom third of 48 countries in water security. The problem was not water itself, but bad governance. We have 34 government water-related agencies that are not coordinated today. Thankfully, there is finally a Neda-sponsored executive order correcting this situation that is already in Malacanñang. It is hoped that the President will sign this in time for World Water Day on March 22.
The private sector must also do its share. Though often done with the collusion of corrupt government officials, the illegal loggers, irresponsible miners, and unconscionable businessmen and citizens who dump harmful waste into our rivers and lakes—they come from the private sector. The MWS has identified the first of seven private sector action imperatives to address this situation: “Follow, implement, and advocate strict compliance with water-related laws.” Organizations must not only police their ranks. They must also, in addition to our citizens, police their ranks and report transgressions, even anonymously, to the proper authorities. With the unprecedented political will demonstrated by President Duterte and DENR chief Roy Cimatu in Boracay and Manila Bay, penalties will be imposed to stop the wanton abuse of our scarce water resources.
On the positive side, the private sector can continue implementing its admirable water initiatives, but with more synergy and intensity. For example, the more than four million Boy and Girl scouts can increase their well-managed tree planting programs with additional funding from corporations, while at the same time showing the best practices of growing these trees. This way, it will stop a common practice of just planting trees which just die without nurturing.
A different kind of people power is needed today to address our water crisis. Each must do his or her share, many by just carefully using everyday water. Only in this way can we substantially achieve our objective of water security three years from now.
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