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Water, water everywhere…

… Nor any drop to drink (from “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Coleridge)

A very interesting point came up last week. I’ve been advocating the split of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources into two. In addition, Guenter Taus, the president of the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, wants a Department of Water. It seems to me we already have too many departments, but he has a strong point.

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We humans need three things to survive: food, oxygen, water. Lacking any one of them, we die. And an awful lot of us may die if Angat Dam ever runs out of water, or, horrifyingly worse, collapses because of an earthquake. As much as 97 percent of Manila’s water comes from that one dam. There is no secondary source of significance. It’s frightening. Administration after administration has recognized this, has drawn up plans—and has done nothing. The action-oriented President Duterte needs to place building another dam near the top of his agenda.

Other sources can also be developed. There are lots of new technologies now on harvesting water from the air; cases in Africa have proven successful. Desalinating sea water will become commercially viable if Research and Development is put to making it so. Rainwater can be collected in tanks from gutters, instead of wasted. It can be used, not for drinking, but to water gardens, wash cars, and maintain golf courses and other prolific users of water.

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What can also be done is to use less water—a call that has been made all over the planet.

Worldwide the supply of water is becoming a critical concern. The world is running out of potable water. Even if water makes up 71 percent of Earth, it’s mostly undrinkable (ocean water needs a very high cost to purify). As many as 319 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa are without access to reliable drinking water sources. One in nine people worldwide do not have access to safe and clean drinking water. We could be next if another water source for Manila is not provided.

We are also — no, not “we,” but some irresponsible, selfish people — destroying the water sources we do have. Laguna de Bay, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, has gone from a depth of 10-12 meters to a scant 2.5-3 meters because of human-induced siltation. The problem is fish feces and feed waste that are polluting the lake. The issue is actually less of siltation and more of eutrophication, or an oversupply of nutrients that increases algae production, which chokes the lake and kills everything in it. A typhoon usually leads to massive flooding among the villages around the lake. This wouldn’t happen if the lake were deep enough.

Naujan Lake in Mindoro was once beautiful, but it’s now dead. Lake Taal is heading the same way. Throughout the country, lakes and rivers are deteriorating because local governments, which are the ones responsible, don’t have the experience in environmental management to know what to do.

So removing the silt is necessary. Removing the excessive number of fish ponds, where much of the silt comes from, is needed. As is stopping, and pardon me for being blunt, people from dumping their sh*t into it. Then there are the industries, and everyone else dumping whatever they like into it with no control. Proper sewage systems are needed, along with a clean, clear passage to the ocean.

So I’m glad to see that the new DENR secretary, Roy Cimatu, recognizes this and has promised to solve it. I hope he can fulfill his promise.

But does this need a separate department? On that I’m not so sure. If we split the DENR into two, as I suggested in my column “Split it” (5/11/17), the Department of Environment secretary could concentrate on solving the water issues, with more time to do it. In fact, let’s call it the Department of the Environment and Water (with a most appropriate acronym, DEW). It will give water the prominence it needs. A dedicated undersecretary who is an expert in the subject, not a political appointee, should be named to head it. If the right person is chosen, dramatic results can be achieved.

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Priority attention is absolutely needed. And we had better put water supply up there on top of the list.

You can’t make San Miguel Beer without it.

E-mail: [email protected] Previous columns: www.wallacebusinessforum.com

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TAGS: DENR, Department of Water, European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Guenter Taus, Inquirer Opinion, Like It Is, Peter Wallace, water supply
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