Privilege Speech on Water Security

February 6, 2017

Senator Loren Legarda
Privilege Speech on Water Security
6 February 2017 | Senate Session Hall


Mr. President,


I rise on a matter of personal and collective privilege to draw special attention to one of the most basic needs of our existence yet it is a resource that we have taken for granted—water.


Man can live for several weeks without food, but a few days without water would be detrimental to one’s health. Our body, after all, is made up of about 60-70% water.


The Earth is likewise composed of two-thirds water and the Philippines, being an archipelago, is surrounded by water. But not all of it is suitable for human consumption—97% is seawater, and while there is 3% freshwater, most of this is frozen and only 0.5% is the freshwater available for us through aquifers, rainfall, natural lakes, rivers and reservoirs.


Given these basic facts, we should all be aware that water is a very precious resource, but as one saying goes, “We never know the worth of water, till the well is dry.[1]”


Let us not wait for that day to happen. We need to strengthen water security.


There are still eight million Filipinos who lack access to safe water and 26.5 million lack access to improved sanitation. Eighteen (18) Filipinos die daily from diarrhea and other water-borne diseases; 55 Filipinos die daily from diseases caused by lack of proper sewerage and sanitation facilities.[2]


Moreover, water is vital to achieving 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.


According to the Asian Water Development Outlook (AWDO), a joint report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Asia-Pacific Water Forum (APWF), water insecurity in the region is caused primarily by inappropriate management practices rather than physical scarcity of water.[3]


To address this, the AWDO developed a water security framework based on five key dimensions for household, economic, urban, environmental, and resilience to water-related disasters. Low water security in these key dimensions can cause economic damages equivalent to up to 2% of our GDP.


Water management resources in the Philippines improved in the past three years. In 2013, the country scored 35 in the National Water Security (NWS) Index; it increased to 40.4 in the 2016 report. However, of the 5 NWS stages, the Philippines is still at number 2 or Engaged, which means that more than half the people have access to modest drinking water and sanitation facilities; water service delivery is starting to develop, supporting economic activities; first measures are taken to improve water quality; and first attempts are being made to address water-related risks.


Definitely, we need to do more. For a country that is likely to experience severe water shortage by 2040 due to the combined impact of rapid population growth and climate change,[4] we must give utmost priority to improving our water security.


We need to craft a roadmap for sustainable water use and consolidate all water agencies to address issues such as overlapping and fragmented regulation of water supply services.


Last January 20, an interagency meeting for the National Water Summit and Roadmap was convened in Malacañang by this representation together with Environment Secretary Gina Lopez and Dr. Ernesto Ordoñez as representative of the private sector.


Using the AWDO key dimensions as guide, the group identified seven sectors to focus on—household, urban, agriculture, economic, environmental, resilience, and governance. For each sector, the committee identified issues and initial recommendations.


In the household sector, among the issues are sewerage problem, high incidence of water-borne diseases, infrastructural deficiencies, lack of rainwater harvesters, management of water supply, flooding and contamination of waterlines due to drainage problems.


In the agriculture sector, irrigation efficiency and water pollution such as pesticide leaching are among the issues raised. To address these, we need to develop water efficient technologies such as crop varieties requiring less water, operationalize river basin management, increase irrigation water productivity and improve irrigation governance.


For urban water security, challenges include water supply and allocation, flooding, and mixing of sewage water with domestic water. 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 enhance 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 laud the DENR for taking such bold step towards implementing our environmental laws. We can further address challenges in environmental water security by enhancing river health through clean-up activities, enforcing the Ecological Solid Waste Management Law and Environmental Impact Assessment plans, 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. There should also be strict water quality monitoring in times of drought when higher concentrations of harmful compounds are observed, and water impoundments, dams and other structural facilities must be evaluated. Capacity building activities for indigenous peoples must likewise be undertaken so they can adapt to water extremes.


In the area of water governance, 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.


There will be several meetings that will culminate in a National Water Summit where outputs will be discussed. 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.


We still have a lot of work to do and I enjoin my colleagues in the Senate to give their inputs as well. We can do consultations in our communities and with various sectors of society so we know their concerns as well.


In conclusion, allow me to quote Dr. Ordoñez in one of his commentary pieces as he succinctly describes the water situation:


“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.”[5]


Thank you, Mr. President.


[1] Thomas Fuller


[3] Asian Water Development Outlook 2016: Strengthening Water Security in Asia and the Pacific

[4] World Resources Institute

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