Legarda: Right to access clean water equals our responsibility to ensure water security

March 22, 2021

As the world celebrates the World Water Day on March 22, three-term Senator, now Deputy Speaker, Loren Legarda today renewed her call for the public to manage and conserve water to ensure water security amid the threat of dwindling water supply in the country.

According to the Asian Water Development Outlook 2020 (AWDO) published by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), 1.5 billion people living in rural areas and 600 million in urban areas still lack adequate water supply and sanitation. In the Philippines, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported in 2019 that at least one out of 10 people in the country still does not have access to safe and clean water sources.

“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,” Legarda said.

“Water is a basic need yet it is a resource that we have taken for granted. As the earth is composed of two-thirds water, the seeming abundance of this creates a sense of complacency to the people. However, we have to realize that while the Earth is covered by 71% water, 97% of this is ocean water, 2.5% is frozen water and only 0.5% is suitable for human consumption,” Legarda added.

Moreover, Legarda stressed that water affects food security as agriculture accounts for an average of 70% of all freshwater withdrawals globally. Legarda noted that the lack of water resources would eventually lead to lower agricultural output.

“Our farmers depend on abundant water supply to grow crops, vegetables, and fruits. There is a need to promote water conservation measures and practices including rainwater harvesting, watershed protection and sloping technology, which are all critical in reducing soil erosion and enhancing agricultural productivity. 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, operationalize river basin management, increase irrigation water productivity and improve irrigation governance,” Legarda said.

Meanwhile, Legarda said that the COVID-19 break out has also put hand washing on top of the pandemic recovery agenda. The campaign launched by the WHO, ”Safe Hands”, highly recommends frequent handwashing and proper hygiene to protect people from contracting the virus.

“Amid the pandemic, the need to ensure water security in the country is even more crucial now. We have to make sure that we have hand washing facility in strategic places with enough water to serve the general public. We have to ensure that access to water is provided especially to the marginalized sectors and rural communities. With the rising cases of COVID-19, we have to provide our people with a reliable first line of defense against the virus to help control and eradicate the deadly disease,” Legarda said.

Legarda also noted that aside from COVID-19 threats, the WHO identified watery diarrhea due to lack of access to safe and potable water as one of the top 10 leading causes of death in the Philippines in 2016, claiming over 139 000 lives.

“Lack of safe and potable water sources and sanitation poses serious health consequences to us, especially to those in the marginalized sectors. Data from the UN Water is very alarming knowing that 4.2 billion or 55% of the world’s total population lack safely managed sanitation services and 673 million people practiced open defecation.[1] Whereas, 3 billion people lacked basic hand washing facility with soap and water. The lack of access to clean, potable water, however, has long been a quiet killer in the country. Up until now, there are still those who have no access to piped water, relying instead on creek water and deep wells,” Legarda said.

The three-term Senator, author of the Clean Water Act, who advocates for resilient and sustainable growth and recovery, stressed the need to craft a roadmap for sustainable water use to address Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) No. 6 in ensuring water and sanitation for all. Legarda said that “having safe water means helping secure public health. With people dying due to unsafe water and poor sanitation, as well as being displaced or forced to relocate in areas with unsafe water, we must ensure we afford every human being their basic right to access safe water.”

Legarda stressed that the government has to step in and provide efficient and effective interventions to further address challenges in environmental water security such as: providing water treatment for household wastes, enhancing water quality monitoring programs and clean-up activities in waterways and watersheds, regular drainage maintenance, enforcing the Ecological Solid Waste Management Law, among others.

“Water is a very basic need. It is everyone’s human right to access clean and safe water, but it is also our responsibility as stewards of the earth’s resources not to exploit the natural resources, but to sustainably manage our environmental ecosystem and veer away from the unsustainable consumption and encroachment of natural resources for us to bestow a better tomorrow to the future generation. We must treat this issue as a climate change concern and not just a water supply issue,” Legarda concluded.***

[1] https://www.unwater.org/app/uploads/2021/03/Infographics_Progress-on-water-and-sanitation.png