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Ignored water solutions

If certain water solutions were implemented instead of ignored, we would not have our water crises today. One key neglected practice done by other countries extensively and successfully is water impoundment. On Dec. 11, 2019, Sen. Grace Poe stated clearly the context of our water crisis in a hearing of the committee on public services. She opened the hearing with an “inconvenient truth” and said: “Millions of Filipino households—and not just in the greater Manila area, but more so in many regions across the country—still have no access to safe water nor to sanitary toilet facilities. So much more suffer through yearly debilitating droughts. The country is already below the international water stress threshold.” On Jan. 14, in a meeting of the Movement for Water Security (MWS) board chaired by nine-year president of the League of Provincial Governors Roberto Pagdanganan, it was pointed out that most of the current media water exposure was on the Metro Manila water concessionaires. Though it is clear that privatization significantly improved water delivery, discussion is now being held to improve the concessionaire contract terms. The MWS directors believe that water management should remain with the private sector, noting the bad experience that might occur again under direct government control.

But as Senator Poe correctly pointed out, the water problem was not just in Metro Manila. This summer, the water problem will become worse, and will be felt throughout the country.

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With climate change, there will be more water scarcity. Last year, we actually violated guidelines by sourcing water from our already depleted underground water tables. This postpones our problem through a worse situation in the future, with even less water. We should instead embark on a national program to conserve water. Examples are to stop wasting water through careless practices like leaving the tap open and using water excessively for washing and cleaning. More urgently, we should embark on a national initiative of water impounding. Instead of excess water being ignored, and worse, allowed to turn into floods, we should construct water impoundment systems.

When I was the secretary general of the legislative-executive-private sector steering committee on the Water Roadmap and Summit that produced seven presummits nationwide and seven water sector volumes signed by seven University of the Philippines Los Baños deans, a key private sector contributor then was now Agriculture Secretary William Dar. His main emphasis, learned from 15 years of experience as head of the international organization International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, was that we must do what other countries successfully do: construct impounding systems in both the uplands and lowlands.

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Water impoundment is defined as “a body of water confined within an enclosure.” It can be constructed on a big scale such as a large reservoir, or a small scale, which our country badly needs. According to the Humanity Development Library 2.0, small water impounding system refers to “structures using readily available materials for the storage and/or diversion of surface water (running water from springs, creeks, streams or rivers).” Concentrating too much on large projects at the expense of these faster turnaround and dispersed projects has been our government’s folly. Even today, the budget of the large-oriented National Irrigation Administration is more than P40 billion, while that of the small-oriented Bureau of Soils and Water Management is less than P2 billion. Note that small impounding projects prevent floods, provide irrigation and enable fish-oriented livelihood activities.

Since we harvest only 4 percent of our rainwater, compared to India’s 60 percent in several areas, it is imperative we take action now. The Department of Agriculture, Department of Public Works and Highways, nongovernmental organizations and most importantly, the local government units (backed by a directive from President Duterte to show leadership in this area) should immediately undertake the construction of water impoundment systems on a national scale before the rains come.

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TAGS: water crises, water solutions
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