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How can local water service providers prepare for dry spells?


June 16, 2023

drought land

For many Filipinos, water scarcity due to periods of extreme weather and climatic conditions is an all too familiar experience that comes with living in the Philippines. This problem largely stems from dry spells, which are characterized by long periods of drought and often befall those in the tropics and subtropics. These dry spells can be partly attributed to the phenomenon called El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) or simply El Niño, wherein the variation in sea surface temperatures and winds over the Pacific Ocean impact the climate of affected regions. In the Philippines, the common indicators of El Niño onset are consecutive temperature recordings of more than 0.5 degrees Celsius, delays in the start of the wet season, an early conclusion of the said season, and less tropical cyclones and monsoon activity.

It’s important to note that ENSO is a historical problem for many Filipinos, as high temperatures and low rainfall significantly affect farming operations and the maintenance of water supply. New evidence also indicates that climate change may be amplifying the negative effects of this climate pattern. Taken to the extreme, these dry spells can spell devastation for a country that largely relies on agriculture and whose people need an ample supply of water for everyday sustenance. Still, Philippine water service providers and infrastructure developers can establish measures to prepare for the dry spells that often plague the country and affect millions of lives. Here are some of the best ways to do so. 

Make regular drought risk assessments

One way to adequately navigate dry spells is through risk assessment and mapping. Drought risk assessment focuses on determining areas that are at high risk of drought based on factors such as weather forecasts, climate change vulnerability, and historical data such as global weather patterns and pre-recorded ENSO-related agricultural shocks. These practices will help in determining possible solutions for expected dry spells, including innovations like drought-resistant crops, water-retaining agricultural practices, and cloud seeding for large expanses of farmlands.

These assessments can also aid in the implementation of preparedness initiatives such as the creation of early-warning systems and monitoring tools for water supply, rainfall, and temperature levels. All in all, drought risk assessments play a key role in helping communities maintain good oversight of their resources and remain somewhat in control in the face of uncontrollable weather events.

Improve freshwater sourcing and storage

The Philippines has over 370,000 hectares of freshwater ecosystems, including rivers, lakes, swamps, ponds, and reservoirs. And with Filipinos relying on these sources for water supply even outside of dry spells, it is highly important to elevate the way that freshwater is sourced, stored, and handled through water infrastructure.

One of Aboitiz InfraCapital’s (AIC) key objectives is to address large-scale needs for ample water supply. For example, its Apo Agua Infrastructura is leading the Davao City Bulk Water Supply Project (DCBWSP) of the Davao City Water District. This effort is expected to provide Davao City with 300 million liters of clean water each day—more than enough for people’s daily needs during the extremely dry months.

A similar large-scale effort is the Balibago Waterworks System, a project in which AIC has a minority stake. Aimed to address the water-related needs of 235,000 households across 11 provinces, this effort is considered to be the most expansive provincial water utility system in the Philippines. Ultimately, efforts such as these are necessary to ensure the availability of safe and clean water even when dry spells are on the horizon.

Increase the capacity for wastewater recovery

evironmental engineer getting water sample

Proper wastewater treatment is also crucial to securing water supplies and preventing water-related stress due to drought risks. Mismanaged wastewater can pollute freshwater and natural water sources, which can lead to the spread of diseases among people as well as damaged ecological habitats and ecosystems. As such, there needs to be a focus on long-term wastewater management through infrastructure development such as those involving sewage treatment plants, reservoirs, deepwells, and irrigation systems. 

AIC also believes in this need for proper wastewater management, as seen in ventures such as Lima Water Corporation (LWC). Located in Malvar, Batangas, LWC serves the multinational companies operating in Lima Technology Center and can treat 26 million liters per day (MLD) of wastewater. It also has a production capacity of 14.5 MLD. For the immediate future, LWC has plans to rehabilitate water networks and meters in line with its efforts to bolster its wastewater treatment capacity. 

With water supply already at risk during periods like ENSO, it should be an imperative to conserve as much of the country’s remaining sources of freshwater as possible.

Maintain good communication among stakeholders

Communication plays a big role in helping society at large stay afloat in the face of insurmountable challenges, especially those involving climate-related crises such as dry spells and the resulting seasonal depletion of water supplies. As such, an interdisciplinary approach is needed to bridge the communication of critical data across stakeholders such as water service providers, infrastructure developers, government agencies, public servants, and the scientific community. There needs to be a strong focus on data governance so that research, policies, technical provisions, and other critical information are seamlessly shared across networks that have the capacity to develop solutions to these problems.

The role that the media plays in these efforts should also not be discounted, as they are responsible for informing stakeholders on pressing water sustainability issues that need urgent action. Most importantly, they are the ones who aid in educating ordinary Filipinos about how these concerns affect them. Thus, regular collaborations are needed between the media and other stakeholders to ensure the sharing of accurate, timely, and complete data relevant to water management. This level of collaboration is ultimately instrumental in providing resources to communities to boost their resilience against El Niño and other climate phenomena.

Bolster water conservation campaigns

Lastly, there needs to be a focus on disseminating information that will encourage Filipinos to take part in water conservation. This can be done through well-designed campaigns that raise awareness about water sustainability and target different groups, including households, companies, businesses, and water utility services.

Public and private stakeholders can come together to develop public campaigns on water conservation, perhaps through avenues such as social media, stakeholder dialogues, and workshops. To relay the message, there must be regular collaborations between partners such as non-government agencies (NGOs), schools, socio-civic organizations, and the media for conservation campaigns. It’s also possible to implement policies on a local or municipal level, perhaps through free water meter installation in every household or incentives for citizens who abide by water-saving practices.

The overarching goal is to improve citizen attitudes toward water conservation and encourage them to do their part, even through simple ways like taking short showers or baths, doing laundry in bulk, and switching off water sources when not in use.

Maximizing preparedness amid the changing climate

business people looking for natural resources

Dry spells and their implications for water availability must not be overlooked, especially in the Philippines where these are a regular occurrence. Although some measures are already in place to mitigate the effects of dry spells, there is still a need for sustained efforts to secure the water supply of affected communities. Ultimately, managing the effects of dry spells requires consistent collective action and unwavering intersectional cooperation. This will then ensure that the Philippines remains resilient not just against the effects of ENSO, but the more looming prospect of climate change.

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