DENR Addresses Public and Private Sectors to Help Solve Water Crises

DENR

Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy Cimatu recently called on greater public and private sector collaboration to address urgent issues on water security.

These include the need to tap alternative sources for drinking water, the immediate implementation of the Manila Bay mandamus as well as the rehabilitation of Laguna Lake, Pasig River and its tributaries to make them useful for the people.

Cimatu also tapped the Water Alliance, a multisectoral movement spearheaded by Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) to lead private sector efforts in helping solve the water crises, to take an active role in the government initiative.

THE NEED TO ACT NOW

According to the Environment Department, 90 percent of the potable water in greater Metro Manila comes from the Angat Dam in Norzagaray, Bulacan which lies on top of the West Valley Fault. In the event of a big earthquake and should the dam become damaged or inoperable, there will be no other viable sources of potable water in the metropolis.

The DENR is also concerned of the poor water quality of Manila Bay, Laguna Lake and various river tributaries due to the indiscriminate disposal of solid wastes and untreated sewage.

In 2008, the Supreme Court through its Decision in G.R. Nos. 17194-48 ordered “executive agencies to clean up, rehabilitate, and preserve Manila Bay, and restore and maintain its waters to SB level (or Class B seawater under the DENR Water Classification Tables) to make them fit for swimming, skin-diving, and other forms of contact recreation.” But nine years after the mandamus had been issued, the Manila Bay Basin is still in a critical state, and has become even acuter than the 18 major river basins in the Philippines.

To fast-track the rehabilitation of the Manila Bay Region, a draft Executive Order was crafted, expanding the work on the rehab, involving agencies not covered by the mandamus and removing obstacles posed by agencies including local government units.

A COLLECTIVE APPROACH

During the meeting last week with leaders of the National Water Resources Board, Manila Bay Coordinating Office, Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission, Environment Management Bureau, River Basin Coordinating Office, Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) and the PBSP Water Alliance, the Environment Chief underscored the urgent need to solve the water problems in an integrated manner and find ways to hasten its implementation.

“We can turn the crisis into an opportunity. Partners can discover solutions and counterparts in other regions and avert the crisis in other water bodies. Resources can be mobilized to address intractable problems in innovative and enterprising ways. We can have rapid and visible solutions, adaptive and cooperative solutions but all of these are above and beyond the current Operational Plan of the Manila Bay Coastal Strategy (OPMBCS). There is a need to mobilize multiple sectors to act within a common framework to create a more productive and ‘living’ Manila Bay,” said Maria Paz Luna, DENR Undersecretary for Manila Bay Concerns and Related Water Concerns.

She revealed that there is a limitation in the OPMBCS because it involves only 13 mandamus agencies. With the plan, there is no clear indication that by 2022 OPMBCS will be able to deliver the target of Class SB water. Hence, the need to engage all relevant sectors such as the private sector, civil society, and academe.

“If we wait 15 years, the cost of sewage rehabilitation will be 85 to 96% higher than if we do it earlier. We are trying to solve a problem without knowing the baseline. We are operating with decades-old data, with less money than we need, with a hobbled enforcement platform. These are the challenges that impede our achievement of the desired outcomes,” Luna lamented.

The common strategic framework will be a multisectoral rapid rehab plan that will integrate the current plans of agencies as well as inputs from the Water Alliance, academe and civil society. Its goals are to drastically reduce domestic sewage reaching the bay; reach a critical mass in solid waste management; reach a critical mass in industrial and commercial wastewater management; and form effective institutional partnerships.

The Water Alliance, for its part, has been tapped to co-organize with DENR a stakeholder’s forum in January to help in the creation of a common framework and assist the Department in the development of a research agenda on the three water bodies.

DENR established MBRACE or the Manila Bay Rehabilitation and Conservation Enterprise for all sectors to participate in the development of the framework; to hold a Science congress that will result in the creation of the research agenda; and to identify and share technological solutions.

PBSP Executive Director Reynaldo Antonio Laguda said the private sector is up to the challenge. He committed to rally members to support MBRACE and raise funds for projects as well as provide opportunity for companies to help in the behavioral change. He also said that the Water Alliance will circulate the EO as part of the consultation process and support to these goals.

The Alliance is working on four action areas: providing water for waterless communities, water footprint reduction, governance and policy reform, and research and database mining. It is composed of 60 members that include First Philippine Holdings, Aboitiz Group, Shell, Coca Cola, Pepsi Cola, Smart/PLDT, San Miguel, Maynilad, Manila Water, World Wildlife Fund for Nature, Oxfam, University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University.

“The Water Alliance seeks to help address the issue of water security by being a platform for synergy of multisector efforts; leverage use of technologies, expertise, and resources from business and its members from civil society and academe; and bring to fore the importance of water as a scarce resource in communities,” said Laguda.

Secretary Cimatu, on the other hand, was pleased with the support of the Water Alliance and of business leaders Manny Pangilinan and Ramon Ang’s offer to help address water security and clean up the water bodies.

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