Advocates of water security have issued an urgent call to put water sustainability back among the Philippines’ top priorities, noting this pressing concern should not be relegated to the back seat even with the ongoing health crisis.

In an online forum, Elvin Uy, executive director of the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP), said the issue of water security and access has lost some of its prominence over the past year with the onset of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic and the economic troubles it has caused.

Uy stressed that access to water should be elevated back to the top of national priorities, as the precious, life-giving resource continues to face growing threats from climate change, pollution, rapid urbanization and improper management, among others.

The United Nations defines water security as “the capacity of a population to safeguard sustainable access to adequate quantities of acceptable quality water for sustaining livelihoods, human well-being, and socio-economic development, for ensuring protection against water-borne pollution and water-related disasters, and for preserving ecosystems in a climate of peace and political stability.”

Kathleen Almonte, manager of PBSP, a corporate-led social development foundation, warned in the same webinar that if water is not properly managed, the country faces a bleak future in which water becomes an increasingly scarce and expensive commodity like oil.
She said the country remains beset by major water issues, recalling the water shortage that hit Metro Manila in 2019 as La Mesa Dam dried up and the destruction of agricultural crops due to El Niño.

Moreover, the pandemic has worsened the solid waste disposal situation as face masks, personal protection equipment and other healthcare disposables increasingly find their way into rivers and other water systems, she said.

Stressing that water security is a complex matter, Almonte urged the government to look upon the private sector as an “essential partner” in addressing this issue.

“Private sector involvement continues to play a critical role in achieving water security,” she said. Industries can be tapped to apply their creativity, innovation and resources to identify health solutions and tackle these issues.

They can also act as champions and advocates of best practices within their companies, industries and the communities. “Businesses are a very powerful force in ensuring water access, sanitation and hygiene services for their own workers and the communities they operate in,” said Almonte.

At the same time, she called upon companies to look at the ways they can manage water demand, such as by fixing leaks, increasing the efficiency of fixtures such as toilets and faucets, and encouraging “water wise” staff.

She stressed that saving water is a win-win solution, as companies will be able to cut costs, develop an eco-friendly image, and attract environmentally conscious customers.

“For many companies, water efficiency is a long-term requirement for staying in business, a big commercial opportunity, or both. To continue operating, companies in most sectors must learn how to do more with less.”

For his part, Ramon Alikpala, CEO of water security advisory firm FutureWater Asia, added that there are constant calls for frequent hand-washing to prevent the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, with little acknowledgment that not everyone has access to water.

Alikpala underlined the importance of the water sector in ensuring all Filipinos have access to clean water, and called for the creation of a department of water and a water regulatory commission.

Establishing a water department and a regulating body will provide the necessary leadership in water management, he said, noting a “dearth in leadership” to provide oversight and guidance to the thousands of water utilities in the country, many ill managed and lacking in skilled managers.

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