DENR eyes seawater desalination to supply small island barangays

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star
DENR eyes seawater desalination to supply small island barangays
The current water level at Angat Dam in Norzagaray, Bulacan was down to 185.65 meters yesterday, close to its minimum operating level of 180 meters.
Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is eyeing desalination or the conversion of seawater into freshwater to provide drinking water to small island barangays in the country as part of the government’s efforts to address freshwater inaccessibility to some 40 million Filipinos.

DENR Undersecretary Carlos Primo David said the 40 million people nationwide who do not have access to a formal water supply rely on springs, creeks and even rainwater for their drinking water.

“While we have big projects in line for large cities such as Bacolod, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, Tarlac and so on, we have to focus on the 40 million underserved population, and there are a few strategies that we have in mind in order for us to provide water to these communities,” David said at a press briefing.

The DENR official admitted that desalination is expensive and requires a certain volume to reduce infrastructure costs, but because of technology improvements, modular desalination systems, which can provide water to up to around 500 families in each desalination plant, are now available.

He said that each water treatment plant costs P5 million to P8 million.

David assured the public that desalinated water is safe for drinking, noting that it is being used in Middle Eastern countries and some parts of the US that do not have enough supply of freshwater.

The government will start the desalination process in 65 island barangays.

The government is considering a number of possible funding sources for its water infrastructure projects, including the government budget, soft loans from development partners and organizations, public-private partnerships and the issuance of government bonds, according to David.

“The government bonds are meant to fund government projects, priority projects and this is another possible source of funding other than, of course, obviously, the GAA (General Appropriations Act). And so the directive of the President is to start studying, ask help from our development partners World Bank, ADB (Asian Development Bank) and so on, to implement this,” he said.

President Marcos yesterday ordered agencies to craft strategies to provide water supply to about 40 million Filipinos who do not have access to freshwater and called for the reorganization of water-related government entities as the country continues to feel the impact of El Niño.

Marcos issued the directives during a sectoral meeting at Malacañang that tackled water-related issues and the government’s flood management program.

“Let’s come up with a plan for the 40 million so that they have at least potable water to take in. We need to attend as much as we can, come up with a plan for the remaining 40 million who do not have an assured water supply – locally sourced water supply,” a Palace statement quoted Marcos as saying.

At the same sectoral meeting, Marcos pushed for a reorganization of water agencies to ensure an efficient and effective response to water-related issues and to provide water access to unserved areas.

“That’s really the main solution is that we have a national plan because water is a national issue. And it has to be handled on a national scale,” Marcos said in a Palace statement.

“We do the reorganization, we carry on with the hearings and put forward our proposals in terms of (our needs)... If we would want the authority then we can do that immediately, but ... it’s necessary for us to have an overall plan. And these water authorities, whatever they are, there are several overlaps,” he added.

The President underscored the importance of balancing water requirements for irrigation, household and industrial use.

“Forty million is too large a number to live with so ... let’s do what we can in terms of reorganizing the authority, to establish an authority,” he added.

The Palace statement did not elaborate on the changes that Marcos wants to implement. — Cecille Suerte Felipe

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