Over 100 stakeholders from business, government, academe, and non-government organizations convened at the third Water Forum organized by Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) through the Water Alliance and with the support of First Gen Corporation and Intellicare (Asalus).
Freshwater is only 2.56 percent of the world’s water based on a report of the National Geographic. As population continues to grow, demand for water also increases despite the diminishing water resources.
In the Philippines, there are only 146 billion cubic meters of freshwater for over 107 million people, leading the country to experience what the United Nations Water (UN Water) calls water stress. Water stress occurs when the demand for water exceeds the available amount.
This is further aggravated by pollution and climate change. The increasing temperature brought by climate change leads to stronger rainstorms and droughts, and causes flooding and landslides. Each time these climate-related calamities occur, communities are put at risk.
These challenges and the solutions of various sectors were discussed in the recent Water Alliance 2019 Forum at The Peninsula Manila in Makati City. Over 100 stakeholders from business, government, academe, and non-government organizations convened at the third Water Forum organized by Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) through the Water Alliance and with the support of First Gen Corporation and Intellicare (Asalus).
Keynote speaker Elisea ‘Bebet’ Gozun, a former Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary and Presidential Assistant for Climate Change, called on the business sector to act now to address these problems while there is still time.
She revealed that climate change in the Philippines had already resulted in various detrimental effects to the environment and the country. One of these is the rising sea levels which led to intensified flooding, eroded beaches, and increased salinity of rivers, bays and aquafiers. She also cited the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) report in 2015 that the highest sea level rise monitored in the last century was in the Philippines at 60 centimeters, more than three times higher than the global average of 19 centimeters.
Climate change also led to the drying up of surface waters and rivers and lowered lake and reservoir levels. She particularly cited the severe drought in 2015 to 2016 which led to the drying up of portions of the Pasonanca river in Zamboanga City where the Zamboanga City Water District gets 80 percent of their water supply. This resulted in water shortages, rationing of water, diarrhea outbreak and even the illegal opening of pipes by the people just to access water, and ultimately compelled the local government to declare a state of calamity because of drought for the first time.
“Water is one of the most critical resources that we have. It is vital to our food chain and essential to all industries and even our own bodies are largely made up of water. Without water, our vital organs will die…In the face of all these, must we change? Yes. It is imperative that we do. Business as usual is no longer an option. We do not have the luxury of time to do nothing. We might reach the tipping point when nothing we do can actually make a difference. So what should we do, water demand management is a key adaptation measure for all of us. This simply means that we need to make the most of the water that we have,” said Gozun.
The Water Forum themed “Climate Risks and Water Security: A Call for Action,” also showcased initiatives and solutions from companies and organizations that included ecologically responsive designs, sustainable water demand management initiatives, and other green technologies. The sharing of best practices encouraged participants to pursue similar endeavors to lessen the impact of climate risks and water insecurity.
“Water security is about ensuring that every person has reliable access to enough safe water at an affordable price to lead a healthy, dignified, and productive life. It is also about maintaining the ecological systems that provide water, especially in the context of climate change,” said Francis Giles Puno, Water Alliance Chairman and President and Chief Operating Officer of First Gen Corporation.
Representatives from the Water Alliance’s four clusters presented their accomplishments and plans for moving forward in addressing the water crises. Water for Waterless Communities Cluster Head and Coca-Cola Foundation President Cecile Alcantara emphasized the need for more water-related projects in communities around the country and encouraged businesses to help in this cause. Albert Samuela, Water Footprint Reduction Cluster Vice Head and NALCO Water Marketing Director, underscored the importance of collaboration to improve and increase awareness on water demand management and water efficiency in the business sector.
Meanwhile, Water Policy and Governance Cluster Head and Futurewater Asia CEO Ramon Alikpala shared their work in supporting the development of public policies on water and sanitation. For his part, Water Research and Database Cluster Head and Oscar M. Lopez Center (OMLC) Executive Director Rodel Lasco, PhD. called for more partnerships between the science and business communities to support studies and technologies on water security.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), PBSP, Water and Life Philippines, and Oxfam Philippines shared their innovative water projects and how they are educating communities on water sanitation and sustainability. Philippine Green Building Council, NALCO Water, Pepsi-Cola Products Philippines, Inc., and Metro Iloilo Water District presented strategies in water efficiency through rainwater harvesting as well as the reduction and monitoring of water consumption in buildings and processes.
Representatives from the academe discussed studies on the state of water in various areas in the country and how to encourage sustainable behavior among communities. Dr. Elizabeth De Castro, a professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman and the country’s only “environmental psychologist” also stressed the need to change people’s behaviors to effectively carry out solutions to these crises.
“We talk about database, we talk about numbers, we talk about all these. But has anybody calculated the physical and psychological consequences of what is happening in the climate today? Therefore, the point of call to action is to understand how we can change behavior, how we can make interventions and how we can make mental support,” De Castro said.
Established in 2015 by PBSP, the Water Alliance is a multisectoral coalition led by CEOs who are committed to create solutions to the water problems in the Philippines.
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