Decisive turn | Inquirer News

Decisive turn

/ 06:47 AM March 24, 2012

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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