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19 M Filipinos still without water—DENR exec

/ 08:50 PM March 16, 2013

CLARK FREEPORT, Philippines—Summer is near and taps may run dry. But an even sadder reality is that 19 million Filipinos do not have access to water, an official of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources said here.

Environment Undersecretary Demetrio Ignacio, who met leaders and members of the Pampanga Association of Water Districts (Pamawd) on Friday night, said the situation in which 20 percent of the Philippine population (94.8 million as of 2011) has no access to water was ironic because the country gets plenty of water from rains.

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“Our rainwater is stored in the ground, in 421 major rivers and 79 lakes. We have about 421 billion cubic meters of water resources and we are only able to consume less than half of these water resources,” said Ignacio, who is undersecretary for field operations.

He said a key problem was the country’s “inability to distribute excess water where it is needed, when it is needed.”

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Ignacio said the country has little infrastructure for storing and distributing water.

“We are penalized by our inability to properly manage our water resources. In areas lacking in water resources, the supply is further reduced by degraded watersheds and water pollution,” he said.

But water availability, Ignacio said, depends on the state of watersheds.

“Nationwide, our forest cover has been reduced to only 24 percent of our land area. This is the second lowest in Southeast Asia, next only to Singapore that practically has no forest,” he said.

Ignacio said Central Luzon has 23.8 percent of forest cover. The bigger woodlands are in Aurora province, which holds 69.7 percent of the region’s forest cover.

He said Pampanga was among the provinces with low forest cover in the country, having only 5,796 hectares of forest cover or 3.2 percent of the province’s land area.

While the lack of storage and distribution facilities is being addressed by various government agencies, the DENR plans to improve watersheds through the National Greening Program.

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Begun in the first year of the Aquino administration in 2010, Ignacio said, the NGP is by far the “biggest reforestation program in our history.” The target is to plant 1.5 billion trees in 1.5 million hectares in six years.

“More trees can generate more water and lessen flooding,” he said.

The government has planted 175 million trees in 351,000 hectares of land. Of these reforested areas, 760,000 trees have been planted in 1,500 hectares in Pampanga.

DILG records showed that there were 432 waterless towns and 1.5 million waterless households outside of Metro Manila as of 2010.

Waterless towns are defined as communities with less than 50 percent water service coverage.

Rene Villa, chairman of the Local Water Utilities Administration, said only 500 of 800 water districts in the country are operating. These water districts, he said, were established without a review of their financial viability.

Villa said his agency’s priority has been to assist small water districts so these could serve more residents, especially in remote areas.

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