Act on water crisis now
Like clockwork, Filipinos are once more talking about a water shortage, prompted by the predictable service interruptions of water utilities that occur almost annually whenever the dry season comes around.
And like clockwork, our government leaders are once more making all the right noises in calling for a coordinated response to this challenge, proffering master plans and new agencies as the solution to a problem that has seemed to defy solution year in and year out.
No less than President Marcos has warned that the country is facing a water crisis which threatens not only the Philippine economy but society as a whole, adding that the required response to this situation has been “continually postponed.”
Indeed, it has. And unless the incumbent administration does things differently this time around, it is in danger of ending up like all other administrations before it: Kicking the water crisis can down the road with the minimum required response and letting future leaders tackle future editions of the water shortage while Filipinos suffer dry taps during the hottest months of the year.
Unfortunately, efforts to secure new sources of water supply for the country’s growing metropolises almost always run into opposition from environmentalists decrying the harm new dams would cause and local communities lamenting the loss of their ancestral domain.
These concerns are valid, but urgent solutions must be secured for the needs of millions of Filipinos for clean water and for the efficient functioning of the nation.
This doesn’t mean that policymakers should run roughshod over environmental and local concerns. It means these water supply solutions like new dams should be built with as little harm to their surroundings as possible and, where that’s not possible, offsetting mechanisms like reforestation programs should be put in place to mitigate the damage.
Affected indigenous communities should be relocated, offered alternative forms of livelihood, and compensated for their sacrifice of offering their land so that millions more of their fellow citizens are able to survive and function efficiently in their day-to-day lives.
Meanwhile, water utilities should be more proactive in investing in and building their supply capacities so that they don’t get caught flatfooted by rising demand for potable water, as is what’s happening to Maynilad Water Services Inc. today and what happened to Manila Water Co. a few years ago.
On the part of the consumer, we should stop whining about the cost of potable water, especially when rate hikes are needed to finance the construction of new facilities like treatment plants and pipe networks. And regulators should carefully balance the interests of water concessionaires and consumers, ensuring that one side’s advantage does not translate to the detriment of the other.
Finally, politicians should stop pandering to the public with their populist pronouncements every time someone raises the inevitable opposing voice to these water supply solutions. Once the public has been consulted, once the policies have been agreed on, and once a broad consensus has been achieved, our political leaders should have the backbone to forge ahead with these difficult solutions instead of worrying about losing votes courtesy of a vocal minority in the next elections.
This is especially critical for the national leadership which must lead the way in subsuming parochial concerns—once these have sufficiently been addressed—into the common good of providing millions of Filipinos with the water they need, whether it’s for daily household use or to irrigate farms or to run turbines that produce electricity.
According to the National Water Resources Board, as many as 11 million Filipinos lack access to clean water. In a country surrounded by bodies of water, blessed with large watersheds (deforestation notwithstanding) and rain that falls inevitably and abundantly after the dry seasons (often more than what’s needed), it is unacceptable that one in every 10 of our nation’s citizens does not have sufficient supply of this essential resource for drinking, cooking, bathing, and cleaning.
Like clockwork, Filipinos are once more facing a water shortage at the start of the dry season. And like clockwork, policymakers are once more issuing their usual statements about securing new supply. But like clockwork, this issue will die down when the rains come and the problem will lie dormant—and essentially unsolved—until the next dry season.
It is high time that we wrap our heads around the problem and for our leaders to spend the political capital on the tough choices needed to solve the water crisis decisively.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.