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We must avert a water crisis – Loren

January 17, 2010

THE COUNTRY MAY BE BLESSED WITH ABUNDANT WATER AT THIS TIME, BUT WE FACE AN ACUTE WATER CRISIS IN THE NEAR FUTURE IF WE DO NOT CONSERVE THIS VITAL RESOURCE, ACCORDING TO SEN. LOREN LEGARDA.
Loren pointed out: “Water stress, amplified by climate change, will create a growing security challenge. The changing climate will adversely affect the country’s watersheds and the population of around 24 million, the forests and their biodiversity, as well as 1.5 million of agricultural lands dependent on these areas for irrigation water.”
Loren mentioned that the country has 412 principal river basins in 119 proclaimed watersheds; a total of 99 lakes, 16 of which have an area more than 400 hectares, and groundwater reservoirs that cover 50,000 square kilometers and have a storage capacity of 251,100 million cubic meters.
But this abundance of water resources masks a potential water crisis. Loren said. Today, the Philippines ranks among the lowest in terms of freshwater availability per capita at 1,907 cubic meters, compared with the average of 7,045 cubic meters worldwide and 3,668 cubic meters in Asia. Four regions— Metro Manila, Central Luzon, and Southern Tagalog and Central Visayas face the dire prospect of decreasing water quality and quantity.
Amid this threat of dwindling water supply, the government must now pursue a number of key measures, Loren said. These include comprehensive watershed management, enhancement of irrigation efficiency, introduction of low wateruse crops and efficient farming practices, recycling of water and improvement of monitoring and forecasting systems for floods and droughts.
Apart from these, Loren said, the DENR and the DA should intensify efforts for the rehabilitation, development and protection of watersheds.
The government must also re-examine forest management systems, especially the Community-Based Forest Management Program (CBFM), and the provision of livelihood for poor upland farmers and allowing the Municipal Agricultural Office to assist upland agroforesters in municipalities where there are no Environment and Natural Resources Officers.
Loren told the forum that she is pushing the passage of the National Agriculture and Fisheries Extension Bill to improve assistance to farmers on capacity building and the operation and maintenance of Communal Irrigation System (CIS) which is an efficient water allocation for integrated landholdings of cooperatives and farmers’ groups to achieve economies of scale.
Moreover, she would support the devolution of resources to enable LGUs to operate and maintain communal irrigations systems. This includes provision of agricultural engineers to LGUs who can teach the farmers.
The legal framework for climate-proofing the water sector, Loren explained, is the Climate Change Act. This mandates the Climate Change Commission to recommend key development investments in climate- sensitive sectors such as water resources, agriculture, forestry, coastal and marine resources, health, and infrastructure to ensure the achievement of national sustainable development goals. The Commission is tasked to promote and provide technical and financial support to local research and development programs and projects in vulnerable communities and areas, among other functions.
Loren vowed to see to it that the Climate Change Act is fully funded and fully implemented. As Vice-Chair of the Finance Committee, she said she would push several amendments in the 2010 DENR budget that seek to strengthen adaptation efforts: P202.5 million for Livelihood Programs through Agroforestry; P35 million for the dismantling of illegal structures along water bodies and enforcement of environmental laws; and P100 million for the acquisition of forest protection equipment P50 million for the mapping of forest cover.
“Climate change poses an added obstacle that we must hurdle in order to ensure our very survival in the future,” Loren observed. Thus, the government must undertake “prudent management of the water needs of people, industries, and ecosystems,” she said.