Friday, July 23, 2010

Water crisis and Business Interests in the Philippines

Water map of the Philippines
AQUASTAT, a global database of water statistics by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations places the surface water resources produced internally by the Philippines at 444 cubic kilometers. Per capita water resources stand at 6,093 cubic kilometers. Natural renewable water resources stand at 479 cubic kilometers. These water resources goes mainly to agriculture (88%), industry (4%) and domestic (8%).

The National Statistical Coordination Board says about 6,673 hectares of land were irrigated, about 5,000 to communal uses. This is from 1996-2007.

If you look at the water map of the Philippines, there are abundant sources of water, so much so, that one water expert says it is enough to provide for the needs of a growing population, even at 96 million.

Now, the question really is--why is it that the government is unable to provide enough water for its citizenry, especially in Metro Manila? If pilferage, according to Maynilad Water, goes as high as 56%, while Manila Water managed to ease it to a low of 13%, where is the problem?

A study says that most of the natural water resources in our country can actually be utilized to satisfy the increasing domestic consumption. Even at a pilferage of 56%, the Maynilad can still effectively provide water services to its concessionaires.

Maynilad wants us to think that it is only Angat dam that we get our water. There are several other more abundant sources of renewable water, yet these areas remain underdeveloped because securing water resources is one of the least priorities of the government.

We also need to know that these other water sources are being contaminated by pollutive materials from industries and firms. A report which I read describes the status of water resources in the Philippines:

With the rapid increase in population, urbanization, and industrialization reduce the quality of Philippine waters, especially in densely populated areas and regions of industrial and agricultural activities. The discharge of domestic and industrial wastewater and agricultural runoff has caused extensive pollution of the receiving water-bodies. This effluent is in the form of raw sewage, detergents, fertilizer, heavy metals, chemical products, oils, and even solid waste. Each of these pollutants has a different noxious effect that influences human livelihood and translates into economic costs.

“The adverse impact of water pollution costs the economy an estimated Php67 Billion annually (more than US$1.3 Billion). The government continues its fight against worsening water pollution by espousing and including among its priorities, environment policies, legislation, and decrees that address the growing need to control water pollution. In the last few years, the government has employed economic instruments such as pollution fines and environmental taxes.”

Access to clean and adequate water remains an acute seasonal problem in urban and coastal areas in the Philippines. The National Capital Region (Metro Manila), Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog, and Central Visayas are the four urban critical regions in terms of water quality and quantity. The Government’s monitoring data indicates:

Just over a third or 36 percent of the country’s river systems are classified as sources of public water supply:

Up to 58 percent of groundwater sampled is contaminated with coliform and needs treatment;

Approximately 31 percent of illness monitored for a five-year period were caused by water-borne sources; and

Many areas are experiencing a shortage of water supply during the dry season.

Nearly 2.2 million metric tons of of organic pollution are produced annually by domestic (48 percent), agricultural (37 percent), and industrial (15 percent) sectors. In the four water-critical regions, water pollution is dominated by domestic and industrial sources. Untreated wastewater affects health by spreading disease-causing bacteria and viruses, makes water unfit for drinking and recreational use, threatens biodiversity, and deteriorates overall quality of life. Known diseases caused by poor water include gastro-enteritis, diarrhea, typhoid, cholera, dysentery, hepatitis, and more recently, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The number of water-related health outbreaks including deaths reported in newspapers is going up. However, awareness regarding the need for improved sanitation and water pollution control, reflected by the willingness-to-pay and connection to a sewerage system where they are easily available, is very low.

The annual economic losses caused by water pollution are estimated at Php67 Billion (US$1.3 billion). These include Php3 billion for health, Php17 billion for fisheries production, and Php47 for tourism. Losses due to environmental damage in pollution, the Philippines has many water-related laws, but their enforcement is weak and beset with problems that include: inadequate resources, poor database, and weak cooperation among different agencies and Local Government Units (LGUs). A Clean Water Act is now being deliberated in the Congress.

There is considerable under-investment by the Government in sanitation and sewerage, indicating a low spending priority, though ranked as a high priority in the Philippines Agenda 21 of 1996. Only seven percent of the country’s total population is connected to sewer systems and only a few households have acceptable effluent from on-site sanitation facilities. Estimates show that over a 10-year period, the country will need to invest Php250 billion (nearly US$ billion) in physical infrastructure. While LGUs recognize emerging water quality problems, they are constrained by high investment and operating costs, limited willingness-to-pay, restricted space available in the low-income urban areas where sewage is disposed of indiscriminately. Some of the Government budget, which is directed mostly towards water supply (97 percent of the total), needs to be diverted to sewerage and sanitation. Individuals are not yet aware and willing to pay for these services and Government incentives are justified in the short-term for the larger community-wide benefits.

So, it is not only the lack of rain that is causing this water crisis--it is the rampant and destructive pollution caused by extreme and wanton disregard by industries to our water sources.

Pollution continues to affect our water resources because of inadequate controls and punitive action from the state. Big factories and industries continue to pollute our rivers, our streams and our lakes. Big logging concessions given to loggers are causing soil erosion and the fast destruction of our watersheds.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources as well as the National Water Board are much to blame for this water crisis as well as the DPWH and the Napocor.

There is, however, a business reason behind this water shortage and this has to do with the strategic objective of Maynilad to control the water dams, especially the Angat water reservoir.

DPWH secretary Rogelio "Babes" Singson is targetting the Napocor for one obvious reason--he wants the Aquino administration to hand over the administration of dams to private companies such as the Maynilad.

The Maynilad is causing this artificial water crisis to justify a takeover of the Angat dam. And why do they want to take it over? So that government controls would be lifted and enable them to procure water free of charge and then commodify it and earn billions.
MWSS takeover

Macra Cruz, senior deputy administrator of MWSS, said the agency would ask MalacaƱang next week to consider its takeover of Angat’s operations.

Cruz told reporters that Maynilad and Manila Water would be joining the petition.

She said National Power Corp. (Napocor), which controls the dam, released water from October to December last year to levels way beyond the requirements for power generation and irrigation.

“Around 10 meters of Angat’s water level was wasted on power alone,” Cruz said at the press conference in the Maynilad office. “Demand for power should not be at the expense of water.”

She added that between 150 cubic meters per second (cms) and 250 cms were released for irrigation when the NIA needed only 30 cms.

Cruz said he asked Napocor officials about this. “They told us that they were just following orders,” she said.