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Israel and the PH water crisis

With Israel acknowledged as a valuable source of the most effective and progressive water management technology, it is imperative we should harness their expertise in addressing our water crisis.

Last Aug. 24, at a session arranged by Mindanao Development Authority chair Emmanuel Piñol for Mindanao governors and mayors, valuable findings and lessons were learned from Mashav, Israel’s International Development Agency.

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Israel, with dry land, few water bodies and little rainfall, has been very successful in improving the quality of life of its people and agriculture. On the other hand, despite the abundant lakes, rivers, and four times Israel’s water, we have done poorly in both areas. (See table).

In its 2013 and 2016 water studies, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) rated our water security in the bottom quarter of 48 Asia Pacific countries. The main reason cited for this was not lack of water, but poor governance.

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Not known to many, the Philippines already has a water crisis. More than 55 people die every day from water-related causes. Fifteen million Filipinos have no access to safe drinking water. Our rain harvesting rate is 4 percent, compared to India’s 60 percent in some areas. About 5.7 million hectares of denuded forest lands and 300,000 hectares of lost mangroves have caused damaging floods. And 34 of our water-related government agencies have no coordination.

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At 4 a.m. on Aug.16, 2016, the five coalition heads of the AgriFisheries Alliances met with then presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte. In that meeting, Alyansa Agrikultura’s Jose Elias Inciong cited the water crisis and asked Duterte if he would address this if he won as president.

On June 20, 2017, now President Duterte created an executive-legislative-private sector water steering committee. From the executive branch were the Secretaries of the Department of Agriculture or DA (Pinol was then DA Secretary), Environment and Natural Resources, Public Works and Highways, Interior and Local Government and the National Economic Development Authority. Both the Senate and House of Representatives were represented, as were the agriculture (AgriFisheries Alliance) and industry (Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry) private sectors.

Technical assistance was provided by the University of the Philippines, Los Banos (UPLB) in seven volumes covering the seven subsectors identified by the ADB. Each was signed by the concerned UPLB dean and coordinated by Dr. Patricia Sanchez, now head of the Interdisciplinary Studies Center for Water. Water experts such as Elisea Gozun and Dondi Alikpala were consulted.

Secretariat support was given by National Water Resources Board executive director Sevillo David Jr. I served as the private sector secretary-general, reporting to Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr., who represented Duterte. Recommendations

The three most important recommendations contained in the final March 22, 2019 report were: a central water body must be formed to coordinate the 34 water-related agencies; Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) should be used through decentralized management using the 18 strategic Water Basin Councils, and emphasis should be given to water harvesting.

Partly as a result of this work, the ADB rating of Philippine water security improved significantly from 1 (nascent) in 2013 and 2 (engaged) in 2016 to 3 (capable) in 2020. That year, we got the second best governance score in Southeast Asia (67.8), second only to Malaysia (74.7).

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Still, this is not good enough. The United Nations estimated that by 2025, 1.8 billion people could face water scarcity. By 2050, 45 percent of the world population would be living in countries chronically suffering from water shortage.

The main recommendation of a central coordinating water body has not been implemented. We still have a disjointed water governance approach that is causing serious problems. Though Duterte recommended a Department of Disaster Resilience in his July 26 state-of-the-nation address, he neglected to identify a Department of Water, which we believe is equally important.

Last Aug. 24, after discussing their findings on our water situation, Moshav’s Uri Shor and Dr. Lior Asaf stated that their most important recommendation was to form this central coordinating body. They also supported our steering committee priority recommendations of using IWRM in the 18 key water basins, and the comprehensive water harvesting on a national scale. Here are Moshav’s recommendations:

-Water resources should be under one organization led by technical experts from all sectors

-Strong control and enforcement of water allocation and demand management

-Comprehensive timely data is critical for efficient integrated management of water resources

-Allocate long-term sustainable additional water resources for the agricultural sector

-Use state-of- the-art efficient irrigation and growing practices

-Economic and policy reforms to account for the real price of water

-Capacity building and knowledge transfer to local communities and farmers

The author is Agriwatch chair, former Secretary of Presidential programs and projects and former undersecretary of DA and DTI. Contact is [email protected]

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