Cooperation is key toward sustainable use, development of water resources

Speaking at the Water Conference and Exposition last week, President Marcos reiterated his administration’s firm resolve to address the water crisis through grassroots-level and technology-based solutions.  Recall that since he took office, his administration has taken on a high-profile advocacy of the need for ensuring the sustainable use, development and conservation of the country’s water resources.

High on the policy agenda of the government is the creation of a Department of Water Services (DWS) that has also been endorsed by the Private Sector Advisory Council, along with the creation of a regulatory commission and a vertical industry structure.

In the proposed legislation, the DWS shall be the “primary policy, planning, coordinating, implementing, monitoring and administrative entity of the executive branch of the government” while the independent and quasi-judicial body WRC will set the policy for supply, sewerage, and septage management; issue licenses; set, review and approve rates; review and suspend contracts; initiate investigations on erring officials through its quasi-judicial nature; and ensure that the welfare of consumers is prioritized.

Despite being an archipelagic country surrounded with large bodies of coastal and inland waters, it is estimated that around one out of every 10 Filipinos still do not have access to clean, potable water sources.

Although on a declining pattern during the first half of this year, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) projects that El Niño "will likely develop in July-August-September 2023 season and may persist until 2024." El Niño increases the likelihood of below-normal rainfall conditions, which could lead to dry spells and droughts in some areas of the Philippines.

President Marcos has emphasized the need for a sense of urgency, citing the propensity to postpone action or adopt stop-gap measures. He expressed confidence that while innovative technology-based solutions are available, the proper conservation and management of available surface water is still imperative. He said: “If you manage your surface water properly, then there will be no need for us to be digging wells and starting to affect the water table that is under us” that also affects agriculture, infrastructure, and construction activities.

World Water Day was observed by the United Nations last week focusing on the need for the sustainable management of water resources. On this year’s observance, the UN calls for boosting international cooperation over how water is used and managed as “this is the only way to prevent a global water crisis in the coming decades.” Concerted action that is driven by inclusive stakeholder participation is characterized by the involvement of the end-users, improves the quality of water-related services and enhances the delivery of services that match the resources and needs of affected communities.

The message of Gilbert F. Houngbo, chair of UN-Water and Director-General of the International Labor Organization deserves closer attention: “Nearly every water-related intervention involves some kind of cooperation. Growing crops require shared irrigation systems among farmers. Providing safe and affordable water to cities and rural areas is only possible through a communal management of water-supply and sanitation systems. And cooperation between these urban and rural communities is essential to maintaining both food security and uphold farmer incomes.”