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4 things to know about water scarcity in the Philippines


January 18, 2023


Water, water, everywhere, and hardly a drop to drink. As an archipelago on the fringes of the Pacific Ocean, most of the water that the Philippines has access to is seawater, which requires an inordinate amount of energy and resources to extract potable water from. 

Today, the country’s more than 117 million inhabitants are reliant on an increasingly limited and erratic supply of fresh water sourced from threatened rivers, aquifers, and lakes that are unevenly distributed throughout its 7,641 islands. Until recently, these modest sources were relied upon to provide adequate quantities of potable water, wherever the right infrastructure was available. 

However, recent challenges have rendered this supply unreliable, even in places where it was previously sufficient. Below are some of the most pressing matters every Filipino needs to know about our fragile water supplies.

1) 1-in-10 Filipinos lack access to clean water

According to a 2019 World Health Organization (WHO) report, about a tenth of Filipinos lack access to clean water. Though this is much better than the global average, the lack of access to clean water in the Philippines continues to be a significant quality-of-life issue that affects millions of people.

Additionally, while the lack of access affects Filipinos everywhere, rural communities and lower-income families are especially affected..

But with the help of the national government, local government units, and partner private firms, Aboitiz InfraCapital is now improving access to clean water for millions of rural Filipinos through its investment in Balibago Waterworks System, Inc., the largest and most efficiently operated provincial water utility system in the country. Balibago operates in 11 regions and 20 provinces, serving 235,000 households.

2) Waterborne illnesses kill thousands of Filipinos yearly

According to the same WHO report, the lack of access to clean water results in thousands of preventable deaths, mostly among children and the elderly. Without access to clean water or adequate sanitation, people are more likely to turn to unsafe water sources. As a result, the risk of premature deaths from waterborne illnesses like cholera and dysentery increases dramatically.

In 2016 alone, 139,000 deaths in the Philippines were attributed to water-borne illnesses, most of which could have been avoided if only more Filipinos had adequate access to affordable clean water. 

Though there have been many positive gains made since then, the national government and private sector stakeholders such as Aboitiz InfraCapital continuously strive to make improvements in water supply systems and water management services around the country to prevent future mortalities.

3) Population growth, climate change, and pollution are key threats

Until recently, the actual supply of potable water in the Philippines was enough to meet demand, particularly in the National Capital Region. However, this limited supply has been stressed by a skyrocketing population and contamination caused by domestic and industrial pollution. Additionally, climate change has resulted in the supply becoming drastically lower during the dry season.

These issues present major challenges in delivering an adequate supply of safe water to Filipinos that cannot easily be resolved at the consumer end. To keep Philippine freshwater supplies secure, many systemic changes have to be enacted.

Such steps that are being employed and considered include but are not limited to education, the enforcement of extant environmental laws, and increasing access to sanitary facilities so that supply contamination is avoided. Strategies to slow down population growth and combat the local effects of climate change are also currently being enacted, though not necessarily with the singular goal of addressing water supply issues.

4) Sustainability and resource management are core issues

Taking all the previous points in mind, it’s worth reiterating that the current issues with Philippine water supplies are solvable, even without needing to resort to the overexploitation of dwindling resources. 

One best practice implementation that many other jurisdictions can learn from is Apo Agua Infrastructura, Inc., a subsidiary of Aboitiz InfraCapital that entered into a bulk water supply agreement with the Davao City Water District (DCWD) for their Davao City Bulk Water Supply Project (DCBWSP). Recognized at the World Water Day Awards in 2021, Aboitiz InfraCapital adheres to a sustainability framework that not only provides profitability for stakeholders but also looks after the needs of customers and the environment. Through this initiative, Apo Agua will be tapping the Tamugan River, a more sustainable source of water in the area, to help shift Davao City’s dependence on groundwater. Additionally, the project’s water treatment facility will also be powered by renewable energy that is sourced from a two-megawatt run-of-river hydroelectric power plant. This pioneering innovation is called the “water-energy nexus” concept, a first in the Philippines.

Aboitiz InfraCapital runs all its projects with this framework fully in mind, committing to better efficiency, reduced waste, as well as the use of clean energy, and the reduction of carbon emissions. These are not just concepts that are applied to water management projects, but also to Aboitiz InfraCapital’s other specializations such as digital infrastructure development and the building of economic estates.

Even as major infrastructure projects like bridges and railways capture our collective imaginations, it’s important to remember that systems that bring clean water into our homes and businesses remain as vital as ever.

Despite the challenges, it is clear that there is a way forward. Government agencies, businesses, and consumers alike can and must work together to conserve and improve our water supplies. Through its water management projects, Aboitiz InfraCapital hopes to deliver its part to do just that.

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