Human Face

Wars over water

/ 12:30 AM October 22, 2015

“Nations will rise against nations, kingdom against kingdom…” This apocalyptic biblical warning is often used to depict portents of things to come that sometimes do come true.

Wars are waged over ethnic and religious differences as well as territorial issues that include resources yielded by the earth—fossil fuel, natural and living resources from the oceans and the wilderness, etc. Hardly anyone talks about water which humans, the most wasteful and destructive occupants of this planet, presume to be free and readily available especially out there where they do not have to pay money for its delivery. Who talks about water (as in H2O) as a dwindling resource, and more so as a potential disputed resource that can spark a war? Only the experts whom we sometimes look upon as geeks and nerds with an alarmist bent.


The war-over-water scenario is not from a trailer of a futuristic movie of the “Soylent Green” type. The scenario could become real, but it is really up to us to prevent it from happening. Experts are issuing warnings, and it is best to harken and heed.

Why water, you ask, when we just had so much of it from Typhoon “Lando” and its destructive predecessors? And how doesthe watery landscapes square with El Niño and the drought predictions that even sent the Metro Manila water providers into supply-tightening moves? Warning: Save and conserve, or else.


Last Tuesday, USAID’s Water Security for Resilient Economic Growth and Stability (Be Secure) Project invited media practitioners (those who showed up were mostly from the Inquirer) to a roundtable discussion. The discussion centered on how to “improve water security and strengthen resiliency to climate change impacts.”

Present were Ramon Alikpala, Be Secure senior technical adviser for water; Bebet Gozun,  Be Secure climate resiliency team leader;  and experts on water demand management: Mary Ann Dickenson, president and CEO of Alliance for Water Efficiency (United States); Maysoon Zoubi, former secretary general of the Ministry of Water and Irrigation (Jordan); and Stuart White, director of the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology (Australia).

From the graphs, charts, statistics and experiences they presented, one could not help believing (if too late for many) that the impact of climate change is real and here to stay until reversed in the latter days—that is, several generations down the road. Meanwhile, what do present dwellers of this planet have to do?

First I had to ask the question I had long been wanting to ask planetary experts: Is the water content of Planet Earth constant, meaning what goes up as vapor comes down again? Or does some of it, because of our own doing, escape to outer space, never to come back again, in which case, will Earth become a barren landscape, like Mars, someday?

The answer to the first question is yes, Earth’s water content is constant, but what goes up does not necessarily come down to the right places, which is on land that thrives on fresh water availability—for drinking, agriculture, industry, etc. Because of climate change, a lot is going back to the oceans whose levels keep rising in a worrisome way (also because of melting ice glaciers).

Fresh, safe water on land readily available to Earth’s inhabitants is a key issue. How do we, as Filipinos, safeguard what we have? Are we making changes in the national and local levels, in the institutional and the domestic, in the business and the personal?

What about behavioral? (Do you use a hose to clean your car? Do you reuse laundry water? Do you turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth or soaping your hands? How often do you wallow in your bathtub? Tabo or shower?)  Little acts of conservation can save a resource that money can’t buy.


Some definitions:

Water efficiency: Having a product or appliance at the lowest flow rate possible and ensuring that water supply is conveyed and distributed efficiently.

Water conservation: Taking efficient products and using them for shorter duration (shower heads, for example).

Demand management: Closing the gap between available supply and increasing demand by reducing water use rather than by just augmenting supply. Demand management allows reallocation of short supplies to other customers. In other words, you can’t have it all by simply saying you can pay for it. Remember, you are not paying for the water but for its delivery. Otherwise, be Jack and Jill and do it yourself.

From Dickenson’s personal experience: Forty or 50 states in the United States are already experiencing supply shortages. In 2014, California delivered less than 5 percent of its former water supply capacity because of drought. Conservation and demand management can help communities cope and save utility costs.

Filipinos have a lot to learn from so-called desert countries that have turned arid areas into fertile valleys, and how citizens innovated and used technical know-how to maximize use of limited water supply.

Part of USAID’s Be Secure Project is getting the media and local communities involved.  While technical solutions (e.g., desalinization of sea water, turning gray water into potable water, wastewater treatment, etc.) can ease water problems, required, too, are social marketing techniques that raise the level of knowledge and awareness that lead to sustainable behavior change.

There is so much more than can be discussed today in this space. But I intend to be a Water Woman and write more about water in future columns.

We have this romantic view of river water as owned by no one, that it defies boundaries and flows where it will—from mountains to valleys and into the sea. That it is forever.

Why should nations have to rise against nations over water? But they sure will when their pipes and rivers are threatened or begin to run dry.

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TAGS: El Niño, environment, Typhoon Lando, water
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