Press Release
June 14, 2017

Speech of Senator Loren Legarda
Water Challenge Forum

"Promoting Innovative Solutions to Address the Water Challenges in the Philippines"

Water is a basic need yet it is a resource that we have taken for granted. Perhaps the seeming abundance of it-as the Earth is composed of two-thirds water-creates a sense of complacency without realizing that of all the world's water, only 0.5% is suitable for human consumption.

In 2015, 91% of the world's population had access to an improved drinking-water source, compared with 76% in 1990. About 4.2 billion people now get water through a piped connection; while 2.4 billion access water through other improved sources such as public taps, protected wells and boreholes.[1]

However, at least 1.8 billion people around the world use a drinking-water source that is fecally contaminated. Moreover, half of the world's population will be living in water-stressed areas by 2025.

Here in the Philippines, around eight million Filipinos still lack access to safe water and about the same number still practice open defecation.

While we try to address these problems, we are faced with new challenges.

A study by the World Resources Institute revealed that the Philippines will likely experience severe water shortage by 2040 due to the combined impact of rapid population growth and climate change. Furthermore, the Philippines ranks 57 out of 167 countries that are highly vulnerable to severe water shortage.

Moreover, water affects our food security as agriculture accounts for 70-85% of our water consumption.

But water security is not only about the provision of sufficient water for the needs of our people and our economic activities, it is also about having healthy ecosystems and building resilience to water-related disasters, including storms, floods and droughts.

Extreme weather events, such as intense or more frequent rains and increasing number of hot days, along with weak resource management, are factors that lead to low water security.

The continued overlapping and fragmented regulation of water supply services in the country by several government entities is one factor that hinders the enactment of a doable and long-term solution to prevent water shortage.

The degradation of our environment is likewise a threat to water security especially because forested watersheds and wetlands supply 75% of the world's accessible freshwater.

The result of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources' (DENR's) mining audit released this year is a cause for concern. Many of those recommended for closure or suspension are said to have caused the destruction of functional watersheds. Some of these operations may have given employment, but what if they caused irreparable damage to the environment?

We also need to strengthen resilience to water-related disasters. The country needs to evaluate existing programs to combat desertification and prevent flooding, and improve its evacuation strategies, early warning systems and disaster risk reduction and management plans. Capacity-building activities for indigenous peoples must be undertaken so they can adapt to water extremes.

In the context of climate change, water management is very crucial. We have witnessed several times how extreme weather events such as stronger rains and storms have caused massive inundation, claiming lives and destroying livelihoods.

In 2016, farmers in Kidapawan City staged a protest as the climate-related drought affected the lives and livelihood of their farming communities. The bloody dispersal that ensued claimed the lives of at least three farmers and wounded several others.

Water stress, amplified by climate change, will create a growing security challenge.

In order to address the water challenge, we need a holistic approach.

The issue of having over 30 water agencies has been a challenge because of overlapping mandates and conflicting programs. We need to consolidate all water agencies in the country and craft a roadmap for sustainable water use.

Much work needs to be done and it needs everyone's cooperation. We should all be reminded that we are the stewards of the Earth, not here to exploit, but to sustainably manage our natural resources. Just as it is our right to access clean water, it is also our responsibility to ensure that the well never runs dry.

Thank you.

[1] Drinking Water Fact sheet, World Health Organization.

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