Preventing a water catastrophe | Inquirer Business
Commentary

Preventing a water catastrophe

To prevent the water crisis from becoming a catastrophe, urgent solutions that were arrived at five years ago during seven water summits all over the country must now be implemented.

Last Sept. 20, in a forum sponsored by Water.org, Management Association of the Philippines, Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines and Accralaw, both Philippine and international water experts talked about the water crisis. We realized that we are involved in an even more serious global water crisis.

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United Nations data stated that by 2025, 1.8 billion will suffer from water scarcity. By 2050, 45 percent of the world’s population will be in various water-shortage situations.

In 2019, then President Rodrigo Duterte created a legislative-executive-private sector water roadmap committee. It was established because of the poor evaluation received by the Philippines from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) studies conducted in 2013 and 2016. Both times, the Philippines ranked in the bottom third of 48 Asia-Pacific countries for water governance. This was true in all of the five areas the ADB studied: environment, economy, household, urban and resilience.

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The committee focused on these areas, and added two: agriculture and governance. They wanted to know if their work would result in an improvement in the next cycle of review.

The committee generally succeeded. From a low rating of 1 (nascent) in 2013 and a 2 (engaged) in 2016, our evaluation rating improved to a 3 (capable).

When the committee was abolished to make way for a presidential executive order that unfortunately was never signed, the momentum for improved water governance also stalled. Given our current crisis, this momentum must now be restored.

The seven recommendations from five years ago must be implemented with haste:

Since there is no coordination among the 32 water-related agencies, an executive order should create an interim coordinating body immediately. We should do this while we await the proposed legislation creating the Department of Water Resources.

The globally recognized Integrated Water Resource Management approach should be used in the 18 critical major water basins. This cannot be done right now because of the low budget (about P1 million to P2 million) for each. We must correct our dismal 4-percent water harvesting rate, which is very low compared to parts of India that are recording 60 percent. We should require better regulation in our building structures as well as better education.The National Irrigation Authority should consider using a larger part of its budget on management to ensure effective use. It has been shown that several times, rehabilitation and repairs, as well as small irrigation systems, yield higher return on investment versus larger systems.

All water-related data must be submitted in a consistent form to the Philippine Statistics Authority. This will enable informed water management planning and encourage decentralized water resource centers to provide better research expertise.

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We should increase planning and budget delivery using the latest cost-effective technologies to give almost 10 million Filipinos access to clean drinking water.

We must focus on reforestation, with emphasis on bamboo and mangrove restoration. There is a huge international Green Climate Fund for this purpose, which we have hardly touched. New groups like the Bamboo Warriors are looking into this, and more should be encouraged to do so.

Some things have been accomplished, but more can still be done to prevent not just a water crisis but also a water catastrophe.

The author is Agriwatch chair, former secretary of presidential flagship programs and projects, and former undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Trade and Industry. Contact is [email protected] 

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