More and more regions of the Philippines are undergoing a serious water supply crisis. Even locations that were previously water-rich are now experiencing frequent shortages, particularly during the dry season. The situation is dire and will likely eventually result in year-round shortages throughout the country if solutions are not put into place. As these problems become more acute, they will undoubtedly threaten the country’s health and economic development.
Here are some of the reasons why water scarcity remains difficult to solve:
1.) Aging Water Infrastructure
Many of the water supply and distribution systems of the Philippines were designed and developed decades ago, with some even approaching more than a century. As these systems age, they become more prone to failure and get increasingly difficult to service. Leaks become common, resulting in more water wasted before it even reaches consumers.
Ultimately, these older systems are not only less efficient, they are less able to serve burgeoning 21st-century populations. Updating water infrastructure and instituting serious systems maintenance is thus key to keeping Philippine water supplies viable. Luckily, there is a good business incentive to do so. For example, Balibago Waterworks, a leading provincial water provider, has made good water distribution into good business. By investing in infrastructure updates and maintenance, forward-thinking utility providers can prevent water supplies from being over-tapped, all while efficiently serving the needs of different households.
2.) Inefficient Agricultural Practices
Agriculture approximately accounts for up to 80% of water use in the Philippines. Rice, the nation’s staple crop, accounts for the bulk of all agricultural water use in the country. Unfortunately, this high water consumption is mostly because of inefficient paddy-flooding methods and the use of open-air irrigation systems. Additionally, many farms fail to follow best practices for water use, resulting in massive water waste and immense pressure on existing freshwater supplies.
Using modern cultivation techniques and switching to less water-intensive crops would be ideal, but this would involve massive cultural changes that are unlikely to happen overnight. Rice cultivation is also a politically charged practice subject to complex market forces. While the needed improvements are clear, these market and political forces complicate attempts to switch to more water-efficient crops, rice varieties, and cultivation methods.
3.) Saltwater Intrusion
The Philippines is historically a water-rich country, with numerous sources of fresh water from rivers and underground aquifers. Unfortunately, rising sea levels have caused saltwater to intrude into previously safe water sources.
Combined with other factors, this has greatly accelerated the dwindling of existing freshwater supplies. Even worse, saltwater intrusion is likely going to become more commonplace so long as climate change continues along current trends.
4.) Artificial Scarcity
True water scarcity is a real problem globally, especially in many parts of the Philippines. However, artificial water scarcity is also common in areas where water is not treated as a public good. This can be true for places where there are currently no physical shortages of freshwater supplies.
Unfortunately, the political and economic issues that create such situations tend to be very difficult to sort out, compared to scarcity issues that could be resolved with technology and investment. For this reason, water management should always be implemented in a way that recognizes the role of water as a public resource.
5.) Rising Populations
Increasing populations will necessarily lead to an increased demand for water. The demand for water goes well beyond what is needed for hydration and hygiene. All the products we consume have an associated water cost in their manufacture, cultivation, and transportation, as well as in the support services needed to advertise and keep those products on the market.
In the Philippines, these issues are compounded by the rising prosperity of the population. Prosperity increases the demand for even more goods and services, which, in turn, require the use of more water. Planning for the exponential increase in consumption is, therefore, a critical element of policymaking in relation to the management of water resources.
6.) Vital Ecosystems Are Being Disrupted
The “natural water infrastructure” that keeps water supplies safe and abundant is also under serious threat from human activity. In the Philippines, for example, many water supplies are dependent on adequate forest cover to maintain their integrity. Forests are important for water supplies as trees capture pollutants and prevent sedimentation that would otherwise degrade rivers and underground aquifers.
Philippine forests have been subject to decades of illegal logging, which has degraded the quality and availability of freshwater supplies. While there are some earnest efforts to restore forest cover, these types of projects take significant amounts of time to complete, making it equally important for authorities to maintain existing forests.
7.) Undervaluation of Water
In many cases, water providers may provide inaccurate pricing of water resources. Water is typically very affordable in water-rich areas, regardless of how fast the sources replenish and whether or not these sources are finite. This results in water wastage as well as endangers the sustainability of extant supplies. Proper regulation of the prices of water resources should, therefore, be considered as a part of long-term water security policy.
Why Learn the Reasons for Water Scarcity?
While most Filipinos recognize the fact that problems in water supply exist, not everyone understands the root causes of these issues. Understanding the reasons for it can be critical for developing solutions that will address extant and future water supply issues throughout the country. Learning about the root causes of water scarcity is, therefore, the first step in achieving water justice for all.