Can you imagine life without water?

- Eddie Ilarde -

MANILA, Philippines - Recently, President Noynoy Aquino has designated a water czar “to look into all concerns regarding water.” It is better to remember, however, that too much rain, which brings floods and dam-overflows (such as those brought by Pedring and Quiel), is not the only kind of water-related problem. A long period without rain causes drought, and the depletion of water supply for drinking may be a bigger crisis. Many countries are preparing for the effects of global warming. The president is correct in his assessment that we need a “superbody” to manage the entire water supply in the country.”

We learned it in school. Water is the simplest chemical compound — two atoms of hydrogen joined with one atom of oxygen. Yet, too little or too much of it spells danger. Without it, in a few days a person can die; without rain plants suffer and when drought sets in, they die. Yet then again, rains without let-up overflow rivers and dams, and floods kill and destroy.

Water is the most precious gift of Mother Nature but the most ignored and misused — and sometimes detested. Water is the biggest component of our body; it makes up two-thirds of a person’s body weight. Even then we need at least eight to 10 glasses of water daily to aid digestion, regulate body temperature and for the healthy function of the heart, brain, bowels, etc. Unlike other body needs like food that we buy for sustenance and health, water, sunshine and air are “free goods” which are just as important. Unfortunately, water, which is God’s gift for everyone, is now a poorly-regulated big money-maker for only a few businessmen, tolerated by the government. Many who can’t afford filtered or purified bottled water drink suffer dirty and contaminated water from shallow wells and leaking pipes.

There is a need to educate people about water. In this country, the importance and value of water is rarely discussed in the classrooms and in the media to educate people and make them aware of their duty and responsibility toward its preservation, conservation and protection — and remind the government of its mandated duty to protect the people’s health and welfare.

The good that the recent strong typhoons did was to rouse the president into action regarding the need to converge water agencies under his watch and “talk water” seriously without delay.

National Geographic editor-in-chief Chris Johns says: “Our goal (must be) to lead a far-reaching effort to meet the challenges posed by this precious and finite resource.” Our aging planet is threatened by global warming exacerbated by man’s material greed and neglect; this country can do no less than heed the warning and join the effort to do something to mitigate a potential water crisis.

Irrigation for the world’s agriculture consumes two-thirds or almost 70 percent of the world’s fresh water withdrawals; research further shows that less than one percent of the world’s water is accessible for human use. Because of the fast population growth and the warming of the Earth, water is depleting fast. More than half of the total world population in fact does not have access to fresh water. Many countries today are not sparing time, effort and money to mitigate the horrible portent of a waterless world. In fact, social anthropologists prognosticate a “water war” among nations in the near future.

The Philippines must act fast to clean up our abundant river system, which are in the throes of dying and drying-up. There is immediate need to resuscitate our fresh water sources such as lakes, abandoned irrigation pumps, rain catchments, etc. There are many suggestions in this regard: Commercial buildings must build rain catchments for its use, LGUs must finance the building of modest mini-reservoirs in every barangay filled-up with rain water or pumped-up water from underground. The “water czar” must get support from the president to start a massive desalination of water from the sea for coastal areas. And by the way, where is the will power of government to finally start dredging and cleaning Laguna de Bay, which can supply the fresh water needs of the whole Metro Manila and environs? As it is our penchant for acting when it’s too late we can be sure the project will remain “on file.”

If the “superbody” the president wants is not set up soon, we can contemplate only a horrible scenario of panic among a hungry and thirsty population in the very near future. Even now we see many people lining-up for drinking water, never mind if its potability is unchecked. This is why many people, especially children, are dying due to water-borne diseases.

This government can go on finding ways to attract foreign investors, find ways to give jobs to the jobless, attract tourists, have more beauty queens, build resorts, send corrupt people to jail, permit the building of more malls beside highways, etc. But when the wells dry-up and there’s no clean water to drink and people die, then what?

It is a constitutional mandate that the government “shall conserve and develop our patrimony.” Patrimony includes waters, which are under the ground, above the ground, in the atmosphere, and of the sea within the territorial jurisdiction of the country. While it is true that “there are too many departments and agencies involved with water management and nobody is really in charge,” we have a basic law in this regard: PD1067 known as “The Water Code of the Philippines” dated Dec. 31, 1976 to implement the constitutional mandate, under the following principles: (a) all waters belong to the State; (b) these waters cannot be the subject of acquisitive prescription; (c) the utilization, exploitation, development, conservation and protection of water resources shall be subject to the control and regulation of the government; and (d) preference in the use and development of waters shall consider current usages and be responsive to the changing needs to society.

The lead implementing agency is the National Water Resources Board (NWRB). There is a standard measure of right in this regard and that is: Reasonable beneficial use. Violation of the Water Code carries fine, suspension or revocation of water permit, imprisonment and in case the violator is an alien, deportation after serving sentence, and for corporations, suspension or dissolution of corporation or juridical person.

So we have a “Water Czar.” There is an impending water crisis and subsequently a “water war.” There is global warming and sun storms are coming. Are we prepared?

(About the author: Eddie Ilarde is a former congressman and senator. As a member of the House as far back as 1965, he was first to expose the pernicious effects of water and air pollution and recommended legal steps against its perpetrators. Today his fight continues even as water polluters have multiplied a hundredfold. He hopes to organize a “Fresh Water Initiative of the Philippines” with willing sponsors. He is heard every Saturday and Sunday, from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. over DZBB. You may contact him by mail at PO Box 107, Makati City 1222.)









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