The reason: Much of it is polluted, or simply, the Philippines does not have the infrastructure to impound, treat and distribute it to households, according to an official of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
Vicente Tuddao Jr., the executive director of the DENR’s River Basin Control Office, on Tuesday said Filipinos have so much water around them thanks to an abundant groundwater supply, various inland water bodies and regular rains. But it is not being used in the most efficient manner.
At a press briefing to mark World Water Day on Thursday, Tuddao said the Philippines had 160 billion liters of water available but only 28 percent of that was being used by Filipinos for domestic purposes.
The rest is unfit for drinking and is used for agricultural and industrial purposes.
“We are still at the lower end compared to other Asians. There is a lot of surplus. But our water is polluted,” Tuddao said.
Water pollution is a serious problem in urban areas nationwide, depriving city residents of the precious resource, according to Tuddao.
Metro Manila, for instance, can boast of several bodies of water but none of these supplies the city with potable water.
“Laguna Lake and Pasig River are polluted. Can we use that? Here in Metro Manila, we are still polluting our rivers,” Tuddao said.
He said the metropolis, which depends on river basins in Central Luzon for its water supply, had to implement rationing in some areas during the summer months.
Make use of floodwaters
Tuddao also said the Philippines was not taking advantage of its floodwaters for lack of infrastructure to save this resource.
He noted that other countries, like Singapore, were catching floodwaters in underground cisterns to be used during the dry season for agricultural and industrial purposes.
Compared to other countries, the Philippines is in a unique position when it comes to its abundant water resources, according to the United Nations.
By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions gripped by water scarcity and two-thirds of the world’s population could be facing a possible water shortage, the UN said.
The United Nations said South Asia, East Asia and the Middle East were already close to using up their water resources.
Giant water drop
To celebrate World Water Day on Thursday, personnel from the DENR and other government agencies will assemble and form themselves into the shape of a giant water drop in front of Quirino Grandstand in Manila.
This would be an attempt to set a record as the world’s largest water drop formation, with hundreds of participants expected to attend, Tuddao said.
Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said this year’s activities would focus on increasing awareness to conserve water resources “not only because we need water to drink, bathe in and wash our clothes, but also because it is an important component of the food that we eat.”
Food supply chain
“Water is very much incorporated in the food supply chain, whether in irrigation, fisheries or in producing feeds for our livestock,” Paje said.
According to Tuddao, the Philippines’ river basins can sufficiently irrigate its crop lands. However, the country needs infrastructure, such as reservoirs and irrigation systems, to make sure water goes to the farmlands with little waste.
He compared the Cagayan Valley river system to the Mekong Delta, that fertile area in Cambodia and Vietnam where rice is grown, but it needs to be rehabilitated.
Some tributaries of the river system, which feeds into 2.5 million hectares of farmland, are polluted and heavily silted. This results in water wastage and floods during the rainy season, Tuddao said.