What the PH needs now to solve a water crisis
With the onset of La Niña, we cannot just wait for legislation to solve our water problems. During his State of the Nation Address, President Marcos announced the creation of a Department of Water Resources as a key legislative measure. Since it is uncertain when Congress will act upon it, we must take action now.
Water is a prerequisite for sustainable development. Last Sept. 7 during the general assembly of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), leadership council member Alyansa Agrikultura brought up the need for coordination among 32 water-related agencies in government.
What went before?
In 2018, a joint legislative-executive private sector committee was formed to address the water crisis. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) had placed the Philippines at the bottom third of 48 countries in terms of water governance.
As the committee’s private sector secretary general, I followed the guidance of University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) Water Center chair Patricia Sanchez and National Water Resources Board Executive Director Bill David. They helped produce a water governance report comprised of seven volumes, with each volume authored by a different UPLB dean.
These formed the basis for seven water presummits around the country, culminating in an action plan by the Office of the President, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda). The three top action items decided upon were: the creation of a Department of Water; the strengthening of Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) through adequate funding for 18 major Water Basin Management Councils; and the significant improvement of our 4-percent water harvesting rate.
As a result, our governance rating according to ADB improved from a score of “1” in 2013 to a “2” in 2016 and then a “3” in 2020. But our goal really is a “5.” Unfortunately, the momentum was stopped because of other political priorities.
The coordination achieved during the committee’s nine-month work motivated the Neda to draft an executive order creating an oversight water coordinating committee reporting to the President. This would be operating while the Water Department legislation was being considered.
Alas, the legislation nor the executive order materialized.
At the SDSN general assembly, there was agreement that this executive order should be resurrected. Coordination among the 32 water-related agencies will also result in the effective implementation of the IWRM approach done through the 18 major Water Basin Management Councils and the significant improvement of our dismal water harvesting rate.
Issues such as those raised by GRS Holdings chair Joe Simeon in his letter to Management Association of the Philippines members cannot be addressed effectively sans coordination. He said, “With the impending food shortage of China and India, there is no way to source our food except to produce in our country. We must store water so farmers can plant during the dry season.”
He also suggested to:
1. Rehabilitate all river water basins in all areas in the farmland and impound water till the dry season using heavy equipment from the DPWH or private contractors;
2. Start construction of a series of Sabo dams where we can impound water from the higher to lower levels of the rivers;
3. Construct or rehabilitate irrigation canals;
4. Subsidize or finance solar power pumps with concrete water impounding tanks, where water can be stored even during the dry season;
5. Land Bank of the Philippines or the government can provide liberal financing to help accomplish the above.
Legislation is desirable, but immediate action is needed. The proposed Neda executive order must be resurrected. Otherwise, the country, which is already facing food shortage, will be in greater peril.
The author is Agriwatch chair, former secretary of presidential flagship programs and project, and former undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Trade and Industry. Email your reactions or comments to email@example.com.