Alarm bell rung on Philippines’ water security

by Ronron Calunsod, originally posted on February 09, 2017


MANILA – The water security threat in the Philippines has assumed alarming proportions because of mismanagement, misuse and the impact of climate change, officials from government, international aid agencies and other stakeholders said Wednesday.

Speaking at a forum on Water Security and Climate Change organized by the U.S. Agency International Development, Sen. Loren Legarda cited a 2015 study that showed the Philippines will likely experience a severe water shortage by 2040 due to the combined impact of rapid population growth and climate change.

“We’re already experiencing severe water shortage. I would like to ring the alarm bell closer to 2017 than 2040,” said Legarda, who chairs the Philippine Senate’s Committee on Climate Change.

Mona Grieser, the lead implementer of a USAID project in the Philippines called “Water Security for Resilient Economic Growth and Stability,” echoed Legarda’s concern, saying, “Yes, there is a certain cause for alarm, obviously.”

“We know that the forecast for climate change has certain parts of the Philippine to be having major water scarcity. And we’ve already seen that in El Nino years, and even in years where we don’t have El Nino,” she said, referring to a complex meteorological phenomenon over the Pacific Ocean that manifests as a drought in the Philippines.

Grieser, whose four-year project ends in April, noted how a number of cities, including Zamboanga on the southern island of Mindanao and Cebu and Iloilo in the Visayas islands of the central Philippines have in recent years resorted to water rationing.

Clay Epperson, deputy head of USAID Philippines, said projections for 2025 indicate that two-thirds of the world population “could be living in severe water stress conditions.”

“These are unusual times, so we’re preparing for them,” Grieser told Kyodo News, citing her project’s accomplishments of improving access to drinking water for some 1.5 million Filipinos and access to sanitation for close to a million others, as well as related efforts of the Japan International Cooperation Agency in the country.

Legarda cited figures that more than 3 million families in the country of 104 million people still have no access to safe water, as is also the case for 337 municipalities in its 10 poorest provinces.

“But water security is not only about the provision of sufficient water for the needs of our people and our economic activities,” the senator said. “It is also about having healthy ecosystems and building resilience to water-related disasters, including storms, floods and droughts.”

“In the context of climate change, water management is very crucial…Water stress, amplified by climate change, will create a growing security challenge,” she warned.

Echoing proposals of stakeholders to reduce water leakage and improve conservation measures, especially in households, Grieser also underscored the need to improve the country’s forests and watersheds.

Amid the overlapping mandates and conflicting programs of more than 30 water agencies in the country, and inadequate enforcement of environmental laws, Legarda trumpeted the “need to have a national center for water to coordinate everyone’s efforts.”

She said there is also a need to establish “a steering committee for planning collaborative workshops towards a comprehensive roadmap for water security.”

“All these issues and recommendations will be discussed in a National Water Summit hopefully that will happen this year. The main goal is to create an Integrated Water Resource Management Framework, as well as short-term, medium-term, and long-term strategies and programs for the National Masterplan for Water,” Legarda said.

“Let us not wait for the well to be dry before we act, because by then it would have already been too late,” she said.

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