Book by UP researchers shows PH water crisis likely if institutions remain weak

Why should water management and conservation be a pressing concern for the Philippines?

For UP professors Dr. Agnes C. Rola, Dr. Juan M. Pulhin and Dr. Rosalie Arcala Hall, editors of the recently-published book Water Policy in the Philippines, it is because demographic shifts, urbanization and climate change are increasingly transforming the face of water supply and demand in the country.

For one, per capita water availability declined over the years, with economic growth and population increases exerting pressure on demand and decreased water sources due to the degradation of watersheds affecting supply. In fact, Rola, Pulhin and Arcala project that by 2025, in a high-economic growth scenario, there will be negative water balance in some regions as a result of escalating water demand in Metro Manila.

Add to this the severe problems of pollution and the rising costs of potable supply. Effluents discharged in water bodies increased along with the growing population and greater economic activities. “Surface water accounts for about three quarters of freshwater supply but many of the major rivers and lakes are heavily polluted,” the UP professors say.

Water Policy in the Philippines brings together the findings of the two-year collaborative research of UP Visayas, UP Baguio and UP Los Baños. The research, funded by the Emerging Interdisciplinary Research Grant, drew on primary data from surveys, focus group discussions and multi-sectoral discussions in various provinces to evaluate in depth some cases that demonstrate the complexity of water management in the Philippines. They found that “there is no water policy to speak of except for highly localized and perhaps politically-contingent water governance schemes that vary from one area to the next.”

The editors articulate that “water as a policy area in the Philippines exhibits the kind of multi-layered complexity and fragmentation, as multiple institutions with hierarchical areas of coverage, varying mandates (regulatory and customary) and sectoral inhabit its universe. Participants include state agencies and non-state actors (NGOs and civil society) but their ability to influence outcomes is highly uneven.”

Using perspectives from the bio-physical and social sciences, the book then maps and examines the current state of the water sector in the country not only in terms of demand, supply and uses but also with regard to legal, institutional and policy arrangements, and performance in the domestic, industrial, agriculture and fisheries, environment and multiple use sectors. The analysis taps inter-, multi- and trans-disciplinary approaches and is made at various levels – community and local and national governments.

The book is composed of 14 chapters written by UP researchers and in three chapters, jointly with experts from the Subic Bay Water Regulatory Board, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and De La Salle University.

Among the results presented in the book are the following:

– Institutional arrangements are complex, multilayered and fragmented and tasks such as planning and monitoring are duplicated.

– Domestic water use is patterned after the country’s demographic distribution in which urban and town centers are favored over rural and urbanizing areas with respect to infrastructure.

–  The cases of nickel and chromium mining in Sta. Cruz, Zambales; gold mining in Padcal, Benguet Province; and the biophysical deterioration of the Marilao-Meycauayan-Obando river system due to factory effluents show how difficulties in implementing environmental laws result in water pollution and public health issues.

– Many laws and regulations are not implemented due to inconsistencies and the lack of capacity to monitor resources and enforce laws

– Water systems with multiple uses such as the Angat and San Roque Reservoirs and the Laguna Lake and Agusan Rivers are open to conflicting uses from opposing socio-economic objectives or even as a result physical configuration of the components of the system.

– The Philippines will suffer from an impending water crisis if institutions are not strengthened.

The book ends by proposing policies and strategies towards achieving water security especially for the poor.

Water Policy in the Philippines is published by global company Springer as part of the Issues in Water Resources Policy Series.