Regional management for water security
To better manage our water resources, we should make full use of our severely underutilized Regional Water Basin Councils (RWBCs). This is the last of the three major strategic initiatives recommended in seven water summits that I personally attended in 2017.
Two of the three were finally implemented during this administration. The first initiative was to create an integrated water management unit.
Last year, the Department of Water Resources was identified as a legislative priority. A Water Resources Management Office was also created to coordinate 32 government water-related agencies that previously did not communicate systematically with each other.
The second was to increase our deplorable 4-percent water harvesting rate (note that India’s is 60 percent). Early this year, Environment Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga announced that for the first time, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is coordinating closely with the Department of Public Works and Highways to identify and use a significant portion of its budget for water-impounding and small dams.
The third is to strengthen the RWBCs for local water governance. This mechanism has been successfully used worldwide, but has regrettably not been done here.
As mentioned in the Oct. 18 Senate deliberation on the proposed DENR budget for 2024, each of the 18 major RWBCs only gets below P1 million on average a year.
Last Oct. 15, Dr. Qu Dongyu, Food and Agriculture Organization director general, wrote: “Unless we act urgently, we are on course to increase our water use by more than one-third by 2050 globally.”
He identified what must be done: “We need to implement an Integrated Resource Management (IRM) through coordinated development and management of water, land, and related resources. We need national and regional designs.”
Our regional design has not effectively begun. An annual budget of less than P1 million for each RWBC is obviously not enough.
The RWBC can only implement an IRM with an P8-million budget each for the necessary coordination and integrating work. The amount will allow it to harness, coordinate and synergize the millions of pesos in the coffers of government water-related agencies.
Duplication and waste happen because an RWBC cannot do its coordination work.
Aside from P8 million for coordination, an additional P20 million (at least) is needed for basic instrumentation. How can one improve if one cannot measure?
Taking into account all 18 major river basins spread across our country, the cost for minimum instrumentation is P360 million. The total cost for both instrumentation and coordination is, therefore, P504 million.
To add perspective to this, since agriculture consumes 70 percent of our water, P504 million is only one-fourth of 1 percent of the Department of Agriculture’s proposed 2024 budget.
A river basin is the area from which all the water flows. This includes watersheds, which consist of surface water ales, streams, reservoirs and wetlands, and all the underlying ground water.
The RWBC is the premier coordinating body that exercises advisory, guidance and monitoring functions for the basin’s management and development. It is composed of the governor, mayor, the regional head of the government water-related agencies, and representatives from business and civil society.
It is clear that the councils are very important bodies, with their representatives being the primary stakeholders for water governance. But this governance cannot be effectively utilized because of the meager budget of less than P1 million each per year.
Proper institutional backing is especially important now, during a water crisis. It is believed that the Senate will address this critical national problem immediately—through their wise guidance and the appropriate budget support.
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]