Will Cebu miss, by the proverbial inch, the fate of Yemen’s cities? “In Sana, the price of water bolted tenfold in some areas,” New York Times reports.” ( It ) could become the first capital ever to run out of water.”
Wedged between Mexico and Guatemala, Mayan cities crumbled between AD 800-950. Food systems collapsed and epidemics erupted when rainfall dwindled to less than half of normal, Science 2012 states.
Twelve miles east of Taj Mahal, the ghost city of Fathiphurshkari moulders. Your footsteps echo in empty palace halls. Cawing crows swoop over deserted balconies. The city died when water cisterns ran dry.
Saudi Arabia pumped its fossil ( nonreplenishible) aquifers dry, Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute notes. Riyadh harvested last year its last wheat crop. Starting 2012, some 30 million Saudis—the equivalent of Canada—will swap oil for imported grain.
There is no substitute for water. “Twenty liters per person each day is the threshold requirement … to meet basic human needs,” UN’s “Human Development Report” states. About 72 percent of water, from rivers or ponds here, is unfit for human use.
The Philippines is second to China in diarrhea-related deaths among children below five. Just washing hands can save lives. But first you must have water “Hand-washing rates are three times higher than in households with piped water. “It is obscene “if people cannot drink water without courting disease or death,” author Sandra Postel writes.
Wednesday, the Cebu provincial government and an Ayala-led consortium cobbled a P702-million joint investment agreement. This would deliver daily 35 million liters of potable water to a parched metropolis and northern towns.
For the first time ever, surface water from Luyang River in Carmen town will be tapped. Until today, nine out of ten cubic meters, quaffed in a metro area of 12 cities and towns, were siphoned from narrow limestone underground reservoirs
Overpumping of these aquifers allowed seawater to seep in more than four kilometers inland,” noted Inquirer ( Aug 19,2011). “This contamination wrecked irreversibly the city’s main source of water. Who will answer for this crime?”
Of 136 cities, Cebu is the most water-stressed. The province has only 2 percent forest cover left. In-migration, industries and trade quadrupled demand for water in less than half-a-century.
In mid-1990, “sustainable capacity of aquifers in Cebu City exceeded 3.6 times and in Mandaue, 7.4 times,” an Ayala Land study found. If no reforms are adopted, Cebu’s groundwater will turn undrinkable. “It’d no longer be a question of supply but include the politically volatile issue of quality.”
In 2007, water demand continued to pull away from supply, Cherry Ann Lim notes in “Vision of Thirst.” They continue to do so— but at an accelerating pace. Withdrawals are double what small reservoirs recharge.
For decades, the stark alternatives to over-reliance on underground wells were: ( a ) total collapse of aquifers, ala Yemen and Fathiphurshakri; or ( b ) draw surface water from outside Metro Cebu.
Mayor Tomas Osmeña’s three terms offered a window-of-opportunity to start reversing the slide into disaster. He instead opted for denial. “What water shortage?” he’d dismiss cautions from Asian Development Bank, Delft University to Water Resources Center.
Osmeña bridged multiplying needs by overpumping already depleted aquifers. He signaled ecological policy insolvency last year by hiring a water diviner. “Lola Choleng is 100 percent accurate,” he told Cebu Daily News. But voodoo didn’t resolve a crisis that he insisted doesn’t exist.
Population, industries and commerce shoved Metro Cebu’s borders 40 kilometers south and north. They render obsolete Cebu City’s kingpin pretensions to be “first among equals” or primus inter pares.
“History is a relentless master,” John F. Kennedy said. “It has no present, only the past rushing into the future. To try hold fast to the past is to be swept aside.”
“We will not be trapped into similar inaction,” Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia vowed when she signed Cebu’s first-ever surface bulk water agreement with Manila Water Consortium’s Gerardo Ablaza.
In this “People-Private-Partnership” project, Capitol put money where its mouth is. It plunked down 49 out of every 100 pesos for the project. The Ayala-led firm puts in 51 bucks. But potable water will already be pumped into towns the pipeline reaches.
Taps will be fully opened in late 2013. Even then, there’d still be a 15 to 40 percent shortfall in Cebu water supplies.
An advance, not to exceed P35 million, will be given to Carmen town led by Mayor Martin Gerard Villamor. He safeguarded watersheds and water use prudently—so far. “Will he shun doles and instead use the windfall to conserve this resource into the future?” Sun Star asked. “Maintain that record and Villamor will tower among Cebu’s leaders day after tomorrow.”
Today’s project started from the first red flags raised, in 1975, by Herman Van Engelen of the Water Resources Center. This SVD priest-scientist retired in July 2011— a year before the launch of Cebu’s project. Prophets often yield to those who build on their vision.
Governor Garcia and the Ayala group started what seems a decisive turn away from faltering aquifers for surface water. It is a good beginning. “But a moment is not a destination,” Arnold Toynbee cautions. “And a voyage is not a harbor.”
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