Climate change is undeniably in our midst, increasing the risks of disaster in vulnerable cities and communities-and the Philippines is one of the countries that greatly bear the brunt of the climate crisis. In fact, aside from terrorism, climate change is one of the greatest humanitarian challenges of our time.
The climate crisis is an all-encompassing threat to our basic human rights-food, potable water, shelter, decent livelihood and life itself.
Sea level rise threatens to submerge coastal towns; ocean acidification is causing irreversible damage to our coral reefs, while the sudden shifts from hot temperatures to incessant rains pose uncertainties to agriculture, greatly affecting our food security. Extreme rainfall and heavy floods constantly threaten lives, livelihood and development.
Because of climate change and other aggravating factors, our communities are either flooded or experiencing drought. It is either we have too much water or we have none.
A study by the World Resources Institute revealed that the Philippines will likely experience severe water shortage by 2040 due to the combined impact of rapid population growth and climate change. Furthermore, the Philippines ranks 57 out of 167 countries that are highly vulnerable to severe water shortage.
We need not wait for the year 2040 before we act. We need to address the issue now.
Last year, as least three individuals died and scores wounded when farmers in Kidapawan City staged a protest as the climate-related drought affected the lives and livelihood of their farming communities.
Since agriculture accounts for 70-85% of our water consumption, water security amidst the changing climate will be crucial in our food security goals.
Access to clean water is also a health concern as 55 Filipinos die daily from diseases caused by lack of proper sewerage and sanitation facilities. Around three million Filipino families still have no access to safe water supply and the Department of Health (DOH) estimates that around eight million Filipinos practice open defecation due to lack of toilet facilities.
During the interagency meetings for the National Water Summit and Roadmap, we have identified water issues in various sectors.
In the household sector, among the issues are sewerage problem, high incidence of water-borne diseases, infrastructural deficiencies, lack of rainwater harvesters, management of water supply, flooding and contamination of waterlines due to drainage problems.
In the agriculture sector, irrigation efficiency and water pollution such as pesticide leaching are among the issues raised.
For urban water security, challenges include water supply and allocation, flooding, and mixing of sewage water with domestic water.
For the economic sector, issues on ecotourism, industrial waste and water as an energy source were raised.
Issues raised in environmental water security include the deterioration of rivers and lakes, solid waste management, mine tailings, sedimentation and erosion, as well as lack of early warning systems.
In the context of climate change, water management is very crucial. We have witnessed several times how extreme weather events such as stronger rains and storms have caused massive inundation, claiming lives and destroying livelihoods.
This only shows that water stress, amplified by climate change, will create a growing security challenge.
There are many more water-related problems we can discuss and we can actually solve half, if not all, if only we comply with the laws that we already have.
In 1989, we already have the Rainwater Catchment Law under Republic Act No. 6716, which requires the construction of water wells, rainwater collectors, development of springs and rehabilitation of existing water wells in all barangays in the country. These catchment systems can be built using low-cost local materials.
In 2001, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act (RA 9003) was enacted into law. It mandates the segregation of waste at source, recycling and composting, among other provisions. Implementing this law would effectively prevent the dumping of garbage into bodies of water.
Meanwhile, the Clean Water Act of 2004 provides for the establishment of multi-sectoral governing boards that manage the quality of water in local river bodies and other water resources. It penalizes acts of polluting water resources, such as disposing of or introducing pollutants in rivers or injecting or allowing them to enter the soil and pollute ground water.
Decades have passed since these laws were enacted yet our water woes remain unsolved. The Judiciary and the Ombudsman are taking steps to help resolve these challenges.
In April this year, the Supreme Court ordered the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Health (DOH), the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the National Sewerage and Septage Management Program Office of the DPWH, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) and the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) to submit a report on their compliance with the Clean Water Act.
The SC also required the two water concessionaires, Maynilad and Manila Water, to submit an updated list of the respective service areas under their concession agreements with the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) and updated reports on the status of their compliance with the law.
Last year, the Ombudsman filed cases against local government units (LGUs) that have not complied with the Ecological Solid Waste Management Law, particularly those that still operate open dumpsites, have not built Materials Recovery Facility (MRF), do not implement segregation at source, and have not submitted a 10-year Solid Waste Management Plan.
In 2008, the SC issued a Writ of Continuing Mandamus for the rehabilitation of Manila Bay. Thirteen agencies, led by the DENR, were mandated to cleanup, rehabilitate and preserve the bay, which is a source of food, livelihood and recreation to millions of Filipinos.
The protection of our environment is crucial to water security and sustainability. Under nature's order of things, watershed areas store water for release into the water receptacles during the dry months, ensuring a continuity of water supply. In fact, forested watersheds and wetlands supply 75% of the world's accessible freshwater. Yet many of our watershed areas are deteriorating.
Water is a precious resource and access to clean water is a basic human right. It is an element that can either give or destroy life, depending on how we manage it.
Yes, we need a National Water Security Roadmap to address water security and management concerns and the overlapping mandates that hinder effective implementation of existing laws. But resolving water-related issues needs the cooperation not only of the three branches of government, but also of local communities and all sectors of society.
In his encyclical, Laudato Si', Pope Francis points to other factors on the issue of water. He says, "Water continues to be wasted, not only in the developed world but also in developing countries which possess it in abundance. This shows that the problem of water is partly an educational and cultural issue, since there is little awareness of the seriousness of such behavior within a context of great inequality."
Until we have taken it upon ourselves that the key to addressing these challenges lies in each and every person's effort to be part of the solution, then the greatest challenge we will have to fight is our own apathy and inaction.
More than the laws and the plans that we craft, the people's understanding of the issues and their involvement in carrying out the solutions are far more important.
All of us have the duty to protect, preserve and sustainably manage our natural resources for the generations to come. Just as it is our right to access clean water, it is also our responsibility to ensure that the well never runs dry.
Source: Senate of the Philippines