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'PUWEDE BA SERYOSOHIN 'YUNG TUBIG NATIN?' | Experts predict severe shortages by 2040

Residents enjoy the view of Laguna Lake at dusk. (photo by Bernard Testa,
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA, Philippines -- In less than 25 years, the country will be experiencing severe water shortages due to rapid population growth, coupled with climate change. Already, 14.5 percent of Filipino families do not have access to safe water, with less than 40 percent of Filipinos having piped access to water in their homes.

The majority of Filipinos draw water from wells or communal faucets (pila-balde), and they pay much more than households with connections to local utilities.

The Philippines is also second to the last in Southeast Asia when it comes to availability of fresh water.

This is why advocates are pushing for the implementation of the 1989 Rainwater Collection Act, which mandates every barangay to have a rainwater harvester. Families can also have their own rainwater collectors by putting a steel drum outdoors and covering these to prevent mosquitoes from breeding.

Former Environment secretary and presidential adviser on climate change Elisea “Bebet” Gozun, now the climate resiliency team leader of USAID’s Be Secure Project on water security, reported Wednesday that based on the Manila Observatory's climate projections, Tacloban City will be drier during the wet months and wetter during the dry ones; Iloilo City will be wetter; Cagayan de Oro City will be wetter up to 2035, and drier from then on; and Zamboanga City will be drier until 2065.

All these cities will see rising temperatures, with Zamboanga City having an increase of 0.9 to 2.1 degrees Celsius by 2025. Temperatures will increase by as much as 1.5 to 2.1 degrees Celsius in the longterm for Zamboanga City.

It will also have a 0.6 percent decrease of rainfall, even as rains for Cagayan de Oro City, Iloilo City, and Tacloban City will become moderate to heavy in intensity.

With such a situation, violent clashes like the shooting of farmers in Kidapawan at the height of the El Niño that began in late 2015 and lasted until mid-2016, are more likely to break out.

Thousands of farmers and indigenous people who had formed a human barricade along the Cotabato-Davao highway demanding assistance due to the drought were dispersed on the third day of their protest, with two persons killed when police opened fire.

Indigenous people and poor rural families are among the most affected by the lack of water and water management despite the ample resources in the government's coffers, said Senator Loren Legarda, who spoke alongside Gozun at the USAID's launch of a handbook for journalists on water security at the Dusit Thani Hotel.

“Access to potable water is a basic human right,” the lawmaker pointed out. The seeming abundance of water in the world soothes people into complacency, but less than one percent of it can be used for human consumption.

USAID Philippines deputy mission director Clay Epperson added that by 2025, two-thirds of the world's population could be living in severe water-stressed conditions.

"We can survive without food for days, but without water, we will not survive beyond two days," Gozun said. “How can we take water for granted when none of this will work without water?”

With water being a factor in everything people do, she stressed the need to maximize rainwater harvesting and storage as a starting point.

“We have to see rainwater as a major resource that we can use. Whether it's the household level -- we can just have drums or cisterns -- or communal, we have these common storage,” she said.

Barangays should deepen low-lying areas and develop them into lagoons so that they can serve as natural catchments. Concerned about dengue? Put freshwater shrimp or fish.

Quoting former Public Works secretary Rogelio Singson, Gozun said: “Why should I wait for the water to become (a) flood?”

The second adaptation is to make the most of the water that is already there. People must reduce the quality or quantity of the water they use to do certain tasks, or adjust the nature of these tasks to use less water.

“Let's use the appropriate quality of water for what's needed!” Gozun said. Rainwater, treated wastewater, and runoffs from the streets are ideal to use for agriculture and fighting fires.

Rainwater can be used for 70 percent of people's needs at the household level, like washing clothes, cleaning, watering plants, flushing toilets, and bathing. Malls are already using treated wastewater in their toilets, saving millions of pesos in the process, she said.

Residents must also ensure that there are no leaks, as these lead to waste. They can also recycle. In poor communities, said Gozun, people take baths while crouched in a tub, and use the water again to launder their clothes. Afterwards, they use the same water to flush toilets or clean floors.

Water used to wash fruits and vegetables can be reused to water plants.

Gozun also advocated for the use of more efficient water fixtures. For example, aerators can reduce water use by as much as 30 percent.

She said that the Be Secure Project staff are now working with the Department of Trade and Industry to label water fixtures for efficiency, so buyers will know how much water these consume, like they do for electrical appliances. Save water, save money, she said.

“Population and economic growth will mean growing demand for water. Our freshwater resources are limited,” Gozun said. “Puwede ba, seryosohin naman natin 'yung tubig natin (Can we please take our water seriously)?”

According to Legarda, a national water summit is planned for this year, as initiated by Dr. Ernesto Ordoñez, Agri-Fisheries Alliance convenor, along with former Cabinet members. She and Environment Secretary Gina Lopez are also involved.

They aim to create an integrated water resource management framework, and strategies for a national masterplan for water.

Filipinos must move towards water security together.

 “It's not like we have an option. Without water, there is no life,” Gozun said.