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Opinion

Towards a sustainable water future

Poul Due Jensen - The Philippine Star

COVID-19 continues to have a profound and indiscriminate effect on all of Asia and the world. Specifically, with safe water access of utmost priority during these challenging times, it has brought global attention to how critical our water systems are when it comes to our health and prosperity. The pandemic has highlighted the unique challenges and issues each country faces with water, from water disruptions in cities to inadequate water infrastructure in more rural and remote areas.

A major catalyst for our water challenges is climate change. For most people, especially in the Philippines, their experience of climate change is through extreme weather events, such as intense rainfall, flooding and frequent drought. But it has also been a silent killer in drastically diminishing our limited natural resources amidst global warming. Nearly five million people in the Philippines rely on unsafe and unsustainable water sources and nine million lack access to improved sanitation.

Adding to the equation, the relationship between water and climate change in the modern day is also a complex one. Water processes call for significant amounts of energy, from treating to transporting. The use of fossil fuels to meet this demand leads to greater greenhouse gas emissions that subsequently contribute to climate change.

This is why we must take a critical eye and examine the vulnerabilities and inefficiencies that exist in our water systems to ensure that we make the most of the limited natural resources we have while reducing our emissions to mitigate climate change’s severity. As we continue to navigate the pandemic, innovation with a sustainability mindset is key to overcoming our water challenges, with a focus on building resilient communities.

Powering water access

At the top of the agenda is addressing inequality in water access. While majority of the population have at least basic water services, access is highly inequitable across the Philippines, with regional basic water services access going as low as 62 percent. Around 99 percent of the one-fifth wealthiest households are more likely to have access to basic water services, while only 80 percent of the poorest quintile do.

Safe drinking water and proper sanitation facilities are essential to health and wellness in the communities. Rural communities and residents of informal settlements in urban areas still struggle with access to adequate water infrastructure. Remote areas lack the infrastructure to generate enough power to transport water, demanding a system that is both efficient and sustainable.

Solar energy can be a game-changer to address this issue and power water pumping stations in such locations, allowing them to draw water from various sources to meet the needs of families and communities, while ensuring zero carbon footprint operation. To date, solar-powered solutions have made a positive impact in other Asian countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and India.

Wastewater infrastructure

Meanwhile with rapid urbanization in the Philippines, there is an urgent need to scrutinize the issues and opportunities of urban development. The country faces significant challenges in terms of water and sanitation, and the current pandemic has led to increased wastewater production as the increase in medical waste has made their way into landfills and oceans.

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