'Full-blown water crisis' looms in PH amid climate change: think tank

Jauhn Etienne Villaruel, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 14 2019 03:55 PM | Updated as of Mar 14 2019 06:41 PM

Residents line up for water rationed by Manila Water in Barangay Highway Hills, Mandaluyong City on March 11, 2019. The water distributor has limited the supply of water, believed to last through the summer season, in parts of Metro Manila due to increased demand, lack of rains, and low water level at the La Mesa Dam, its emergency source. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — A climate think tank on Wednesday warned of a "full-blown water crisis" if government  fails to intensify its offensive against climate change and put in place policies to address its devastating effects. 

Over 1.2 million households in Metro Manila are currently grappling with scarce water supply as concessionaire Manila Water implemented "operational adjustments" that may persist in the next three months. 

In an email interview with ABS-CBN News, Renato Redentor Constantino, executive director of Manila-based Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC), said climate change would only exacerbate existing risks and development issues.

"It is high time that... [the] creeping impacts of climate change [be] baked into the government plans and budgets... More coordination and foresight is required among government, suppliers and regulators, but there is still time to address the challenges we face and stave off a full-blown water crisis," said Constantino. 

ICSC is a Manila-based international non-government group advancing fair climate policy and low carbon, climate-resilient development.

Constantino described the current water predicament in Manila as "alarming" considering that "[w]ater scarcity is an annual concern especially during the summer season."

"[I]t is alarming that residents in areas of Metro Manila have not had water for almost a week now... PAGASA has already projected large variabilities in rainfall and dry seasons," he said, adding "this would be amplified by climate impacts."

Manila Water earlier said El Niño was to blame for the shortage of supply as the La Mesa Dam, its emergency source, hit critically low water levels. It later admitted that aside from lack of rains, delayed projects and increase in demand also contributed to the shortage.

The water distributor draws its main supply from the Angat Dam, but consumer demand has exceeded the supply. 

MOUNTING WASTE?

Amid persistent water interruption, establishments and households in Metro Manila have reported a spike in use of plastic and other disposable eating materials to do away with washing dishes and utensils.

The environmental management department of Mandaluyong, for instance, expressed concern that residents were resorting to disposable utensils as they add up to the over 1,200 cubic meters of garbage collected in the city daily.

But Constantino said the blame must not be placed on the consumers, who are left with no choice, but on the plastic industry itself. 

"Let’s be very clear: it’s not plastic waste which is the problem but plastic production. That’s what needs focus at the moment, the industry continuously producing products harmful to human life and the environment and not taking responsibility... Take responsibility now," he said. 

 FINDING SOLUTIONS

The reality, Constantino argued, is that a bigger water crisis is on the horizon. How government addresses this will be the game-changer, he added.

"Scenario after scenario, study after study has shown that threats to water security loom on the horizon, if they’re not here already. How soon we can bake in the climate crisis into long-term national and local development strategies is the real question," he warned.

"Climate change would only intensify existing challenges in securing our water supply, particularly in urban and agricultural areas... It is no longer enough to just name the problem." 

Next week, the Senate is set to conduct hearings to investigate the cause of the water shortage in Metro Manila.