by Filipino TV journalist Melclaire R. Sy-Delfin
—recent Global Media Award
winner and subject of an ECSP podcast
—warns that a water crisis could threaten the 88 million residents of the Philippines as early as 2010. According to Delfin, 27 percent of Filipinos still lack access to drinking water, despite successful government programs to increase supply.
Why? “There has been too much focus on developing new sources of supply rather than on better management of existing ones,” said Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Angelo Reyes at a January 2007 conference. Almost all of the country’s watersheds are in critical condition, devastated by logging, erosion, sedimentation, mining, overgrazing, and pollution.
Population growth is also erasing the government’s gains. “From 1995 to 2005, the government has successfully provided water for an additional 23.04 million. However, the population increased by 24.5 million over the same period,” National Water Resources Board Director Ramon Alikpala told a UNDP meeting.
Growing by more than 2 percent annually, the Philippines’ population could top 90 million next year. Delfin told a Wilson Center audience she has met “women with eight children who want to stop giving birth but no knowledge of how to do it,” and decried the “lack of natural leadership” from President Gloria Arroyo.
The Philippines House of Representatives’ version of the 2008 budget—currently in conference—includes almost 2 billion pesos for family planning programs. “We cannot achieve genuine and sustainable human development if we continue to default in addressing the population problem,” Rep. Edsel Lagman said in the Philippine Star.
However, current Environment Secretary Lito Atienza said at the Asia-Pacific Water Summit that population growth should not be considered part of the country’s water problem. But his opposition to family planning is well-known: Advocates in the Philippines recently launched a suit against him for removing all contraceptives from Manila’s clinics when he was mayor.
“We must not leave things to fatal luck when we can develop the tools to prevent harm,” said President Arroyo at the launch of UNDP’s report on water scarcity. That’s an encouraging attitude, but without focused efforts to improve degraded resources and reduce population growth, the Filipino philosophy “Bahala na”— roughly equivalent to “que sera, sera”—may let the wells run dry.