TROUBLES OVER WATER

Dabawenyos, you better watch out. Next year, you will be paying more for the water you will be using and drinking!

“Davao City Water District (DCWD) is bound to impose a 60% water rate hike by middle of next year,” wrote correspondent Maya Padillo in a headline which appeared in EDGE Davao recently.

“We hate water increases that is why it doesn’t come very often,” Atty. Bernard Delima, DCWD spokesperson, was quoted as saying. “To get a water increase is very difficult undertaking. The prizes in 2005 had actually increased by 60 percent. The cost of business in Davao City increased by 60 percent since 2005. We buy chlorine from private entities; we buy anything from the business entities.”

But what is more alarming is that Davao City may run out of fresh drinking water soon – due to the booming of its economy and the continues influx of people. In order for this not to happen, the DCWD – in tandem with the Apo Agua Infrastructura, Inc. – is tapping the Tamugan River as a new surface source of water.

The new source of water, studies showed, can supply as much as 400 million liters of water per day. This is in addition to the 135 million liters of water per day which the ground water sources could supply.

Those volumes of water “are more than enough to cover the projected water demand of 331.5 million liters per day for the water utility’s service coverage area by 2012,” the DCWD said in a statement.

Davao City, however, is not alone in this dilemma. In Metro Manila, there is “a possible water shortage during the summer season in 2020,” reports the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Emmanuel Salamat, administrator of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, told the House committee on Metropolitan Manila Development that Angat Dam, the primary water source of the metropolis, is “forecasted to remain to be critical for the summer next year.”

Both Davao and Metro Manila were identified by Japan International Cooperative Agency in a study done in 1991 as among the nine major cities in the country described as “water-critical areas.”

The other seven cities are Metro Cebu, Angeles, Baguio, Bacolod, Cagayan de Oro, Iloilo, and Zamboanga.

But that’s just for starter. Around one in 10 people in the country still do not have access to safe water sources, according to the regional office of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Manila.

The right to water is a basic human right. “A person can survive only three to five days without water, in some cases people have survived for an average of one week,” says thewaterpage.com. “Once the body is deprived of fluids the cells and organs in the body begin to deteriorate. The presence of water in the body could mean the difference between life and death.”

Among Filipinos, about 310 to 507 million cubic meters of water are being consumed each day. “A household of five needs at least 120 liters per day to meet basic needs – for drinking, food preparation, cooking and cleaning up, washing and personal hygiene, laundry, house cleaning,” noted David Satterthwaite and Gordon McGranahan in their collaborative report published in the State of the World of the Worldwatch Institute.

Water covers 75 percent of the earth’s surface and the amount that exists is already fixed: some 1,400 million cubic kilometers. Most of this, that is, 97.4 percent, is salt water; another two percent is locked away in ice caps and glaciers. This leaves only 0.6 percent, or 8.4 million cubic kilometers, of which some 8 million cubic kilometers are stored underground.

As the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) simplifies it: “If all the earth’s water were to fit in a gallon jug (4 liters), the available fresh water would be just over one tablespoon.”

“Although water is a renewable resource, it is also a finite one,” writes Sandra Postel, author of Last Oasis: Facing Water Scarcity. “Nature makes only so much available in a given region each year – and supplies can drop considerably below average in times of drought.”

“Water is an extremely important resource that we cannot live without,” said Dr. Gundo Weiler, WHO Representative in the Philippines. “But there are Filipinos who are still being left behind in terms of access to improved water sources, especially in rural communities.”

This has dire consequences. “Everyone agrees water is basic for life,” wrote veteran journalist Juan L. Mercado in his column. “When cisterns go dry, disease and death rates surge.”

In 2016, one of the top 10 leading causes of death in the country was acute watery diarrhea, which claims 139,000 lives, mostly children.

“(About) 31% of illnesses in the country are water-related due to lack of clean drinking water supply and efficient sanitary facilities,” a lady congressman once pointed out.

Most of those who suffer from lack of safe drinking water are the poor people. The “crisis in water and sanitation is – above all – a crisis of the poor,” said a study done by the United Nations Development Program, Beyond Scarcity: Power, Poverty and the Water Crisis.

Disparity among the rich and the poor is transparent when it comes to water. “People living in the slums… face shortages of clean water,” the UNDP study claimed. “(But) their neighbors in high income suburbs… keep their lawns green and swimming pools topped up. (The poor) pay five to 10 times more for water per unit than those in high-income areas of their own cities.”

In the past, those living in the rural areas have less access to clean water. These days, however, urban people are most likely to suffer from the brunt of water shortage.

“Water quality is poorest in urban areas,” said the Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB) sounded the alarm in its annual report in 2007. It added: “The rapid urbanization of the Philippines, with more than 2 million persons being added to the urban population annually, is having a major impact on water resources.”

This is particularly true in Metro Manila, described as a megacity as it is home to more than 10 million people. In fact, the metropolis is the fourth largest megacity in the world in terms of population.

“One of the most critical resources under mounting stress in urban cities is water,” pointed out Kim Jensen, group senior vice president and regional managing director of Grundfos Asia Pacific Region.

“The crisis comes as a stark reminder that we need to treat water security as a top priority,” Jensen explained. “We need to make a fundamental change to the way we manage water. This means rethinking the different aspects of water management, including how we approach existing infrastructure all the way through to how we educate people to use water efficiently.”

The San Miguel Corporation (SMC), a multinational publicly listed conglomerate holding company, is doing its best to help manage the country’s water resources. “While our water management efficiency level is among the highest in the Philippines,” SMC said in a statement, “water conservation and protection has always been a key component of our operations.”

Among the water management SMC is doing are as follows: eliminate wastage of water across its operations, reuse and recycle more water, reduce its use of ground and surface water and protect vital water resources, and harvest rainwater.

On the latter, SMC stated: “We will harvest rainwater and runoff water from creeks and rivers – collecting, filtering, and storing it for irrigation and for various other purposes.”

Meanwhile, advocacy group, Interface Development Interventions (IDIS) is against the tapping of Tamugan River as a new source of drinking water for Dabawenyos. Its study showed the river has “hazardous levels of mercury.” In its website, IDIS envisions “all people as stakeholders who have the right and duty to care for healthy watersheds.”

“The mercury scare is just a scare,” commented Davao veteran journalist Serafin Ledesma, who used to be a DCWD member. “While I agree to their proposition that the water quality in Tamugan and Panigan rivers must be monitored, its assumption of dangerous levels of mercury in both rivers is suspect.” (To be concluded)