El Niño and the lack of water
Antonio Claparols (The Philippine Star) - March 21, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — El Niño is back with a vengeance. Prolonged hot weather due to climate change has resulted in dried up dams and rivers. Humans can survive without food for days but not without water. Water is the source of all life and now, we have so little of it. While the Earth’s surface is covered by over 70 percent water, barely two percent of the existing fresh water can be used. The other one percent is locked inside glaciers. And those glaciers are in the process of melting daily.

The United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) holds many Conference of the Parties (COPs) yet nothing has really been done to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide emissions continue to increase, and the last count saw the figures breaching 400 parts per million (ppm). The seas are also getting warmer, absorbing over 50 percent of all atmospheric carbon dioxide while releasing over 70 percent of all oxygen, a necessary element for living things to survive. The seas are alive with a rich ecosystem yet unmitigated pollution gave rise to giant trash gyres in the ocean and expansive dead zones covered in plastics.

Climate change deniers and global warming skeptics have yet to realize the fact that we are running out of time and water. This year’s El Niño will take its toll on us like no other season. The La Mesa Dam is drying up and all other big dams and rivers will follow suit as well. There has always been constant opposition against large dams because of the damage they cause to nature. The Aswan Dam in Egypt, the Three Gorges in China and even the San Roque Dam in Pangasinan have destroyed native river ecosystems and forested land. Yet there is more talk about damming our remaining good rivers.

In the past, rainwater is stored by trees in the forest, gathering in the ground within the roots before being released slowly into rivers and streams. In this way, ground water would be replenished and aquifers would be filled. Rivers teemed with life as it exits into the seas. Today, when it rains, raging floodwaters destroy everything above ground before eventually silting the seas and killing coral colonies.

As of writing, the summer season has just begun. Water pressure and supply is running scarce. For those who don’t know, a golf course, on the average, consumes over one million cubic meters of water a day. Today’s water scarcity has left these once green grass fields brittle and dry. When I was appointed by then president Fidel Ramos as part of the Golf Course Construction and Development Committee with the mandate to protect the environment, the main issue was water. In the end, we only approved seven out of the more than 100 applications.

Our appointment was co-terminus with the Ramos presidency so after that, all the golf courses were constructed and we ran out of the greatest recourse. With all this occurring, the country is still in a building mode continuing with the old development model – the model that has ruined us all.

We have long advocated to change this model but lo and behold, the rich have gotten richer and fewer. Meanwhile, the poor have increased and gotten poorer at the expense of our ecological wealth. We are a mega biodiversity country in danger. We are so rich and yet so poor. It is time for a radical change, yet we do not have the luxury of time. Zamboanga is already in a state of calamity and Lake Uyaan has literally dried up. More Arab Springs may be in the making. At this point, having a healthy environment is a good economic policy.

The author is president of the Ecological Society of the Philippines.

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