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3 important issues in the Philippine water system that need immediate action


May 20, 2023

As an archipelagic domain, the Philippines is surrounded by water. However, the freshwater resources needed to sustain homes and businesses are increasingly under threat from overpopulation and the aging of existing water infrastructure. As such, water shortages and poor sanitation are still consistent problems in many urban and rural areas, particularly in the dryer months. In 2019, for example, more than 10,000 households across Metro Manila experienced water loss when the supply level in La Mesa Dam, one of the region’s main reservoirs, fell below its critical point. 

Water scarcity and the rise in the cases of diseases caused by poor sanitation are serious problems for any community, but the rising temperatures and what international experts have deemed to be an impending climate crisis have only highlighted how important and urgent it is for the Philippines to solve the ongoing challenges to its basic water infrastructure. Failing to address these water issues now will do more than reduce the quality of life of many Filipinos; the lack of timely resolutions can also put numerous lives and livelihoods at risk. Here are some of the water system issues in the Philippines that need immediate action. 

Low level of public and private sector investment in water infrastructure

Everyone needs water, but not a lot of private organizations are willing to enter public-private partnerships (PPP) in order to invest in water facilities and systems that the general population needs. The hesitation, in part, is because investors need to find definite signs that an investment will pay off, including a well-designed contract between the government and the infrastructure developers, before they commit to a project. 

This doesn’t mean that the construction of water systems and facilities in the country has come to a complete halt. There are still many ongoing projects that are designed to address water scarcity in different areas around the Philippines undertaken by private companies. These endeavors include Aboitiz InfraCapital’s joint venture in Davao City, Apo Agua Infrastructura, Inc., and its minority stake in Balibago Waterworks System, Inc., a water utility that spans 20 provinces. With private sector investments like these, many local communities are able to access safe and sustainably sourced water.

Even with these promising developments, there remains an urgent need for the government to update and introduce policies that will encourage more investors to put their resources into constructing robust water facilities and systems all over the Philippines. 

Water policies and governance at the national and local levels

There are 30 public sector agencies, both from the national and local government levels, that are involved in the management of water resources in the Philippines. These agencies play a role in policy planning, data monitoring, infrastructure and program development, and operation of water facilities, among other functionalities, and their roles can overlap at times. 

Recognizing and acting on the policies set by the agencies, as well as accommodating the customary systems used by each, can cause conflicts and delays in the development of water systems and the rules that govern their operations. While the presence of multiple decision-makers has a few advantages, and there are times when these agencies can work in harmony, the political inertia generated by so many actors can undermine the progress that can be made in the development of water systems.

A review of the legal and institutional framework that governs the allocation and management of water resources is long overdue. This endeavor should include a thorough discussion of the responsibilities, institutional requirements, and procedures that each agency should accept and implement. Eliminating redundancies and coming up with coherent decision-making processes in a unified way will help each governing body understand their roles better, navigate conflicts, and fast-track their respective projects and programs. 

Insufficient education programs on water supply and sanitation issues

Agencies and providers that specialize in managing water resources should not consider their jobs done as soon as they are able to distribute clean water to their customers. They should also make an effort to invest in developing this resource and educating their customers about the issues concerning water management.

For the longest time, institutions have neglected to discuss how a nation’s water supply should be managed, developed, and sustainably sourced. This is about to change, however, as millions of people could be displaced due to water scarcity in the coming decades. Some experts even expect water scarcity to become a source of conflict in the coming years. 

As early as now, it’s important for government agencies to spearhead technological developments in managing water resources and sanitation facilities. It’s also high time to initiate educational campaigns that aim to help individuals and organizations become more conscious of how their water is sourced, managed, and recycled. Adopting a forward-looking approach will help the nation have a more resilient water system in the face of worsening climate conditions.

Water is essential to life, and its presence and absence dictate the existence of great civilizations. Making an effort to properly and sustainably use water now is essential to ensuring that Filipinos will be able to make the most of this precious resource in the years to come.

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