Local, foreign business groups call for urgent reforms amid water shortage

Fourteen business groups and joint foreign chambers have issued a joint statement calling for immediate government reforms to ensure water security for the Philippines as Metro Manila is hit by a water undersupply.

In a statement released recently the trade associations called on both the administration and Congress to take urgent action, saying they “strongly commiserate with and share the frustrations of millions of Filipinos who are experiencing hardships associated with the current water shortage in Metro Manila.”

They said the megacity’s overdependence solely on Angat Dam for Metro Manila’s water supply requirements “has proven to be folly, especially in the face of continued economic and population growth, climate change, and disaster risk.”

The group observed that the current crisis is “a direct result of the ambiguity of responsibility for developing and managing the country’s water resources” and that this ambiguity “bespeaks of the poor and fragmented governance of the water sector in general over the past decade.”

To prioritize water security, a number of immediate measures were recommended, including developing a water security masterplan and appointing a “water czar.”

Proposed is the development of a water security masterplan for Metro Manila and the entire country based on “the globally-recognized principle of Integrated Water Resource Management,” and the strengthening and giving of adequate resources to the National Water Resources Board.

Moreover, legislation should be passed to have a single lead agency oversee and coordinate overall policy and program implementation for the water sector, and to create an independent regulator for water supply and sanitation to harmonize regulatory practices and standards. Such legislation should also encourage private sector participation in the management of water resources and the provision of water services, said the group.

“To shepherd these reforms, we urge the president to appoint a ‘Water Czar’ who can focus on this task of bringing order to the currently directionless water sector,” said the statement.

Another measure suggested is to fast-track the construction and development of new water sources for Metro Manila and hasten bureaucratic approvals by obtaining permits in parallel rather than sequential order, while ensuring proper environmental and social safeguards are adequately put in place. Manila Water was also called on to hasten completion of its Cardona treatment plant and other water sources.

“As a long-term solution, steps should already be taken to develop adequate raw water sources to meet the future needs of Metro Manila, including tapping the full potential of Laguna Lake, a vast and nearby water resource,” the business groups stressed.

Another area for reform is in water conservation and water efficiency. This includes promoting and adopting technologies and practices for more efficient water use such as efficient water-consuming appliances, water reuse systems, substitution of chemical-based cleaning technologies, and reduction in water wastage by agricultural, commercial, domestic, and industrial consumers.

In addition, concessionaires may continue reducing non-revenue water losses and government may consider introducing demand-management policies, such as mandatory labeling requirements and minimum water efficiency standards for water-consuming appliances.

Finally, the rehabilitation of Philippine wetlands, water bodies, and supporting ecosystems is also needed. Aside from cleaning Manila Bay, rehabilitation effort should be expanded to include other major water bodies that can serve as natural sources of water supply, storage, and power, such as Laguna Lake and the Agus and Pulangi rivers.

“Efforts must also be made to ensure watersheds and wetlands are revitalized and maintained, while putting an end to illegal land conversion around these natural systems, which severely reduces holding capacities of these vital water-capturing and water-holding systems,” the statement said.

The 14 groups are Alyansa Agrikultura, American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Australia New Zealand Chamber of Commerce, Canadian Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Philippines, Inc., Korean Chamber of Commerce Philippines, Makati Business Club, Management Association of the Philippines, Philippine Association of Agriculturists, Inc., Philippine Association of Multinational Companies Regional Headquarters, Inc., Philippine Association of Water Districts, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Philippine Exporters Confederation, Inc.

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