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.
The greater portion of the Earth is composed of water, and so is the human body. That is why it is ironic that while our bodies and the planet are abundant with water, many still lack access to it, especially clean and safe drinking water.
All over the world, 663 million people still lack access to improved drinking water sources and there are around 842,000 deaths each year due to unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene.
Here in the Philippines, the USAID estimates that more than three million Filipino families still have no access to safe water supply; 337 municipalities in the 10 poorest provinces are still waterless. Moreover, around eight million Filipinos practice open defecation due to lack of toilet facilities.
Water is also vital in achieving food security, promoting healthy communities, and for our economic activities. Moreover, water security is about having healthy ecosystems and building resilience to water-related disasters, including storms, floods and droughts.
For a country that is likely to experience severe water shortage by 2040 due to the combined impact of rapid population growth and climate change, we must give utmost priority to improving our water security.
In the context of climate change, water management is very crucial. We have witnessed how strong rains and storms have caused massive inundation, and claimed lives and destroyed livelihoods.
In 2016, farmers in Kidapawan City staged a protest as the climate-related drought affected the lives and livelihood of their farming communities. The bloody dispersal that ensued claimed the lives of at least three farmers.
This only shows that water stress, amplified by climate change, will only lead to 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. It penalizes pollution of 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.
Resolving water-related issues needs the cooperation not only of the three branches of government, but also of all LGUs 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 behaviour within a context of great inequality."
In this gathering, we aim to get inputs from various water industry stakeholders as we 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.
However, until we have taken it upon ourselves that the key to addressing the water challenge and its related environmental concerns 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