ANTIPOLO City, March 23, 2011—Water is for the people, not for profit. This was the statement of the environmental advocate group, Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (KPNE) during the global celebration of World Water Day on March 22.

“Despite of our vast water resource potential, the Philippines is among the lowest in terms of water availability in Southeast Asia. Only one out of every two Filipinos has piped water in their house. Only a third of the rivers in the country can be used for water supply. This is because majority of our rivers have varying levels of pollution and degradation. Pasig River, Parañaque River, Bocaue River, and Meycauayan River are among the most polluted rivers in the country and also in the world,” said Clemente “Enteng” Bautista Jr., national coordinator of the KPNE.

KPNE has assailed the government for its alleged inaction to the water problem in the Philippines.

“The Aquino administration has neither reviewed nor changed the bankrupt economic policy and poor water management of the past administrations. Water resources and facilities are still being privatized. For example, water supply and sewerage services remain a private venture. The government has relegated its responsibility of providing effective and safe water supply and sanitation services in Metro Manila to private companies,” he said.

He also said that the water companies are the ones who are raking massive profits, while leaving the majority of the people in the Philippines, waterless. Bautista refers to the privatization of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) in 1997.

The water-as-a-right alliance, Water for the People Network-Philippines (WPN), seems to support KPNE’s claims.

In a statement, the WPN said that “The privatization of public water utilities has worsened the people’s access to water, adding that 16 out of 100 families in all income classes do not have access to safe water. In Metro Manila, water rates have also continued to increase since the privatization of the MWSS, with the two private firms increasing their basic charges by 449% (Maynilad) and 845% (Manila Water).

WPN also stated that less than 60% of Maynilad’s service area in the west zone has 24-hour water service, while Manila Water claims 99% water supply coverage in the east zone but does not distinguish areas with direct household connection from those serviced by private water suppliers.

Philippines manages its water resources poorly—study

In terms of water management, Bautista said that the Philippines is one of the top ranking countries in the world that manages its water sources poorly as only five per cent (5%) of its 90 million population have a sewer network connection, citing the latest World Bank (WB) study. Citing that same study, Bautista said that 95 per cent of the households in the country are dumping its wastewater directly to groundwater or to canals, which are connected to larger bodies of water such as rivers, lakes or seas.

“In Metro Manila, only 15% of the population is connected to the sewerage system. The study also shows that 58% of the groundwater is contaminated because of pollution coming from domestic and industrial wastewater,” the environmental advocate stated.

Bautista also disclosed that 1/6 of the recorded disease cases in the country and about 6,000 premature deaths are related to contaminated drinking water.

“Around US$134 million or P6 billion is lost yearly because of these illnesses and deaths from water pollution. The urban poor sector bears the brunt of the negative health and economic impacts of the pollution since they live in high risk areas,” Bautista furthered.

Laguna de Bai and Manila Bay: great examples of water resource mismanagement

He made the Laguna Lake an example of how poorly the previous and current governments have managed the water sources in the country.

Laguna Lake (also known as the Laguna de Bai) is the largest body of freshwater in the country, and third in Southeast Asia, covering 949 square kilometers (or equivalent of 98,000 hectares). It is surrounded by the Rizal province on the north, Laguna province on the south, and Metropolitan Manila on its western shores.

It is the home of 23 fresh water fishes and the 10 salt water fish species and the 26 types of lake-water based plants that provide the 100,000 fishing families in Laguna Lake, their livelihood. While it seems to be teeming with life, the lake is slowly dying because of pollution.

In 1997, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources reported that 8.5 million people residing around the lake are dumping their domestic and other wastes directly to Laguna de Bai. Industries and the agriculture sectors also contribute to the polluting of the lake, as they constitute 30 and 40 per cent of the wastes found in water, respectively.

Meanwhile, the Water Environment Partnership in Asia (WEPA) has identified Manila Bay as one of the “water pollution hotspots” in Southeast Asia. While Manila Bay is supporting the livelihood of about 23 million people, it is under threat as pollution in the waters increases each year.

“The sustainability of the Bay and its diverse ecosystem is however continually threatened by a variety of land and sea-based human activities, which contribute to the decline of its environmental quality. Overexploitation of resources, illegal and destructive fishing, habitat destruction, pollution, siltation and sedimentation, uncontrolled development and the conflicting use of limited available resources cause pressures on the bay,” the WEPA states in its website.

While there are several laws being implemented to protect the Manila Bay, it seems that these laws are insufficient.

“However, with the increasing complexity of the problem there is a need for multi-agency and cross-sectoral management program,” WEPA explained.

On the other hand, KPNE said that in order to reverse the negative effects of the water sources’ mismanagement and the extensive water pollution in the country, the government should craft laws and implement programs that will re-orient the utilization and management of our water resources.

“The water industry should be working, primarily for public service and needs, and not for private profit. At the same time the people must struggle to establish a government that will genuinely uphold their interest and not of the corporate world,” Clemente said. (Noel Sales Barcelona)