Keynote Speech: Media Forum on Water Security and Climate Change

February 8, 2017

Keynote Speech of Senator Loren Legarda
Media Forum on Water Security and Climate Change
8 February 2017 | Dusit Thani Hotel, Makati City


Water is a basic need yet it is a resource that we have taken for granted. Perhaps the seeming abundance of it—as the Earth is composed of two-thirds water—creates a sense of complacency without realizing that of all the world’s water, only 0.5% is suitable for human consumption.


This forum is very timely. Two days ago, I delivered a privilege speech in the Senate about water security and it stimulated a discourse among us senators on the various problems and possible interventions to strengthen water security.


We have various statistics on clean water and sanitation but the USAID estimates that more than three million Filipino families still have no access to safe water supply; 337 municipalities in 10 poorest provinces are still waterless.


Moreover, water affects our food security as agriculture accounts for 70-85% of our water consumption.


But water security is not only about the provision of sufficient water for the needs of our people and our economic activities, it is also about having healthy ecosystems and building resilience to water-related disasters, including storms, floods and droughts.


Extreme weather events, such as intense or more frequent rains and increasing number of hot days, along with weak resource management are factors that lead to low water security.
A study by the World Resources Institute revealed that the Philippines will likely experience severe water shortage by 2040 due to the combined impact of rapid population growth and climate change. Furthermore, the Philippines ranks 57 out of 167 countries that are highly vulnerable to severe water shortage.


The continued overlapping and fragmented regulation of water supply services in the country by several government entities is one factor that hinders the enactment of a doable and long-term solution to prevent water shortage.


Last January 20, an interagency meeting for the National Water Summit and Roadmap was convened in Malacañang. Together with Environment Secretary Gina Lopez, Dr. Ernesto Ordoñez, Convenor of Agri-Fisheries Alliance, and representatives from various water agencies, we dissected issues on water security.


Using the Asian Water Development Outlook (AWDO) key dimensions as guide, we identified seven sectors to focus on—household, urban, agriculture, economic, environmental, resilience, and governance. For each sector, the group identified issues and initial recommendations.


In the household sector, there is the problem of sewerage, high incidence of water-borne diseases, infrastructural deficiencies, lack of rainwater harvesters, management of water supply, flooding and contamination of waterlines. Suggested interventions included providing water treatment for household wastes, enhancing watery quality monitoring programs, regular drainage maintenance, and strict implementation of solid waste management plans.


In the agriculture sector, irrigation inefficiency and water pollution, such as pesticide leaching, must be addressed. We need to develop water efficient technologies such as selecting crop varieties requiring less water, to operationalize river basin management, increase irrigation water productivity and improve irrigation governance.


For urban water security, water supply and allocation, flooding, and mixing of sewage water with domestic water are the main challenges. Initial recommendations include the review of current city plans, providing incentives for investors in urban water collection, construction of water impoundments and rainwater harvesters, and enhancement of water treatment facilities for industries.


For the economic sector, issues on ecotourism, industrial waste and water as an energy source were raised. It is important that we maintain the integrity of our ecotourism spots, implement payments for environmental services in all major watersheds, and strictly implement the Water Code. We can also utilize water as an energy source by promoting small water turbines along river systems.


Issues raised in environmental water security include the deterioration of rivers and lakes, solid waste management, mine tailings, sedimentation and erosion, as well as lack of early warning systems.


Last week, Secretary Lopez announced the results of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ (DENR’s) mining audit. It is appalling to see degraded forests and polluted watersheds. For many years, these mining firms operated in the country and while they may have given employment to some, the cost on our environment is already irreparable. Many of those recommended for closure or suspension have caused the destruction of functional watersheds.


We can further address challenges in environmental water security by enhancing river health through clean-up activities, enforcing the Ecological Solid Waste Management Law, implementing sediment removal in water impoundments and reservoirs, and enhancing forecasting systems.


Meanwhile, to strengthen resilience to water-related disasters, the country needs to evaluate existing programs to combat desertification and prevent flooding, and improve its evacuation strategies, early warning systems and disaster risk reduction and management plans. Capacity building activities for indigenous peoples must be undertaken so they can adapt to water extremes.


The issue of having over 30 water agencies has been a challenge because of overlapping mandates and conflicting programs. We need to have a national center for water to coordinate everyone’s efforts. But for the meantime, a steering committee for planning collaborative workshops towards a comprehensive roadmap for water security needs to be established.


All these issues and recommendations will be discussed in a National Water Summit that will happen this year. The main goal is to create an Integrated Water Resource Management Framework as well as short-term, medium-term and long-term strategies and programs for the National Masterplan for Water.


In the context of climate change, water management is very crucial. We have witnessed several times how extreme weather events such as stronger rains and storms have caused massive inundation, claiming lives and destroying livelihoods.


In 2016, farmers in Kidapawan City staged a protest as the climate-related drought affected the lives and livelihood of their farming communities. The bloody dispersal that ensued claimed the lives of at least three farmers and wounded several others.


Water stress, amplified by climate change, will create a growing security challenge.


Dr. Ordoñez succinctly describes the water situation in one of his commentary pieces. He said: “Water significantly affects our lives. When it is everywhere and when it is nowhere, we have serious problems. That is why we need a water master plan so we can control water, instead of water controlling us.”[1]


It is on this note that I laud the USAID for giving due importance to this issue and for crafting a handbook that will guide journalists in effectively reporting about water security.


The media has a crucial role to play. Understanding the issues and how they affect people’s lives, our communities, our economy, and our sustainability would help in effectively promoting awareness and communicating the necessary actions that we must all take.


Each of us has opportunities to make a difference for our future, whether that difference would be beneficial or detrimental depends on the action we take now. Let us not wait for the well to be dry before we act because by then, it would have already been too late.


Again, congratulations to USAID for organizing this event and I hope for a more engaged media as our partner in addressing water security and climate change.


Thank you.***


[1] “Water everywhere and nowhere”, Ernesto M. Ordoñez, Philippine Daily Inquirer, December 20, 2016