Sustaining Our Water Resources

Article excerpt

Byline: Rafael D. Guerrero III, Ph.D.

OUR commemoration of World Water Day with the theme, "Water for Life" stressed that indeed, water is required by all living forms and is essential for our survival and continued existence. Water has become a critical resource because of our bourgeoning population, economic development, and environmental degradation. According to the United Nations (UN), about 1.1. billion people lack access to safe drinking water and 3-4 million humans die each year due to waterrelated diseases. In the Philippines, the Department of Health (DoH) reported that 93 Filipinos get sick of diarrhea every hour and about 25 die everyday.

A report of the World Bank showed that only 69 percent of Filipinos in 1995 had access to clean potable water. Of the 115 cities in the country, only six have sewerage systems. About 22 million metric tons of organic pollution are produced annually by domestic (48%), agricultural (37%) and industrial (15%) sources. More than 90 percent of the sewage produced in the country, mostly from households, is dumped into waterways without treatment. The annual economic losses caused by water pollution in the Philippines is estimated to be R67 billion.

In terms of quantity, the water supply of our country appears to be more than adequate with its annual average rainfall of 2,500 millimeters, potential surface water resources of 206,230 million cubic meters (MCM) per year, and potential groundwater resources of 20,200 MCM per year. While on a per capita basis there will be 3,072 cubic meters of water for every Filipino in 2025 (down by 41% compared with that of 1990), the cost of potable water supply and sanitation services will escalate with the concomitant increase in population, competition in water use by various sectors, and environmental pollution.

The main strategy advocated for sustainable development of water resources in Agenda 21 of the World Commission on Environment and Development is integrated water resources management (IWRM). The Global Water Partnership defines IWRM as the "coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources within hydrological boundaries to optimize economic and social welfare without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems." The process also involves participatory planning and implementation by stakeholders to "meet societys long-term needs for water and coastal resources while maintaining essential ecological services and economic benefits."

The three basic concepts of IWRM are: (1) Fresh water is a finite and vulnerable resource essential to sustain life, development, and the environment; (2) Water development and management should be based on a participatory approach involving users, planners and policymakers at all levels; and (3) Water has an economic value in all its competing uses and should be recognized as an economic good.

In applying IWRM, there is an urgent need for us to address the critical concerns of our watershed denudation, inefficient use of water particularly in agriculture, the lack of public awareness on water conservation, and the enforcement of the Clean Water Act.

Our forested watersheds are vital for the recharging of aquifers which are the main source of our drinking water. …