By Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman
HOME to 79 natural lakes and 451 rivers, and being an archipelago, thus surrounded by water, the Philippines faces a perennial water shortage. This is as much a public concern in the National Capital Region as it is down south, going by the Sun.Star’s report of a water shortage in portions of Cebu City and Talisay City last April. As if to affirm this situation, the Japan International Cooperation Agency has recommended the relocation of 500 households near a watershed to give way to a new dam, to prevent an anticipated water shortage in Metro Cebu by 2020.
This problem is being tackled in Cebu and elsewhere in the Visayas. “Water is important yet we look at it like there’s no problem. There is more to it than the water that comes from the faucet. Basta may connection ka okay na [as long as there is water connection, you think it’s already okay], but a lot is going on with water and that is the challenge with management,” University of the Philippines-Los Baños chancellor Rex Victor O. Cruz said during a media visit in Negros Oriental, upon the invitation of advocacy group Water Excellence Philippines (WEP). The invited journalists were acquainted with best practices in water management and conservation.
“There are more than 30 agencies engaged in water management, and yet what do we see? Why is there [a] crisis in Cebu or [in] Manila? It’s in the balancing act that we are not yet good [at],” the US-trained Mr. Cruz, who holds a doctorate in watershed management, also said.
The invited journalists were acquainted with best practices in water management and conservation.
“Water is the most critical yet the most under-advocated resource that we have. It encompasses everything — food, agribusiness, health and sanitation, tourism, trade, education. We cannot do away with water yet no one is talking about it,” WEP director Amor Maclang, for her part, said.
ACCESS TO POTABLE WATER
Negros Oriental, with its track record of water-resource management, is poised to become the country’s “water capital” as recommended by the WEP. Negros Oriental Gov. Roel R. Degamo had issued Executive Order No. 15-11 as a commitment to transform the province into a water capital.
According to Mr. Cruz, the group had also considered Davao City and Cebu province in determining the location that would serve as the country’s water capital.
“Negros Oriental, it seems, has the highest per capita in terms of environmentalists,” Ms. Maclang, for her part, said. So the choice was obvious. The province has access to potable water and is home to 25 rivers and watersheds, 47 streams, and a number of waterfalls.
The Negros Oriental website noted the high access to potable water in the capital city of Dumaguete and five other municipalities. Water in this province is cheap, at least P100 per month, depending on the volume of use. Dumaguete has 100% potable water access, followed by Bacong with 98.9%, Amlan with 98.3%, San Jose with 96.1%, and Sibulan and Tanjay both with 95.3%. There is no private-owned water provider in the province, but the province’s 25 local government units (LGUs) supply water to the communities, said Joaquin de la Peña, chief of Negros Oriental’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
Another advantage of the province, as Mr. Cruz points out, is the involvement of its academic community. Silliman University and Negros Oriental State University have been involved in water sustainability through their research and studies. In these areas, the province “has a science-based management, [and is] stakeholder-driven and LGU-driven,” Mr. Cruz also said.
Perhaps the most obvious attraction of Negros Oriental is its own capital. Dumaguete City remains a largely rural and laid-back town, with few establishments including the local malls and restaurants and four international business process outsourcing (BPO) offices. But the city’s access to potable water is 100%. And it has this distinction, according to Forbes magazine, of being the fifth best place in the world to retire. Other cities selected in that magazine poll are Cuenca in Ecuador, George Town in Malaysia, and Chiang Mai in Thailand, along with the Portuguese southern region of Algarve. The cost of living in Dumaguete City is an average below-1,000 USD only, which attracts expats to return.
Apart from the efforts of the academic community, the Negros Integrated Water Resources Management Council was organized in 2008 as an advisory body to protect, rehabilitate, and develop the province’s water, land, and other resources. Its initial budget of P3 million covering the next five years (until 2013) was allotted to meeting certain targets in terms of watershed profiling, water quality, and water management .
Another initiative is President Benigno S.C. Aquino III’s Executive Order No. 183 creating a single Negros region for the island that had been traditionally divided in terms of language and culture by its mountain range.
The EO aims to “further accelerate the social and economic development of the cities and municipalities comprising the provinces of Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental and improve the delivery of public services in the aforementioned provinces” — which happen to share the same protected resources such as the Ilog-Hilabangan River Basin, one of the biggest in the country.
But where does Negros Occidental figure in this vying to become the country’s water capital?
“In natural resources management, the planning unit has to be consistent with the biological and physical process that is going on in land,” Mr. Cruz said, emphasizing the obvious that’s still taken for granted. “If you look at watershed, the boundaries of watersheds will not really respect the boundaries of political units. They don’t coincide, and yet it may be better if the political boundaries coincide with the natural boundaries of the watershed.”
Among Negros Oriental’s advantage, besides its clean, accessible water system, is its forestland. Negros Oriental’s website cites a total forest area of 281,386 hectares, which constitute 52.09% of the total land area. This is further divided into unclassified forestlands of 63,091 hectares and classified forest lands of 218,295 hectares. “The classified forestlands include area established for reserves, timberland, national parks, game reserves, bird sanctuaries, watershed, and fishpond,” the website said.
“Negros Oriental has completed its forest management plans. It has planted [trees in] 65,000 hectares. It also has the biggest mechanized seedling nursery of 9.4 hectares,” said Charlie Fabre, head of the provincial government’s Provincial Environment Natural Resources Office. The mechanized nursery is projected to produce and accommodate 15 to 20 million seedlings every six months.
The province has 25 LGUs, 19 of which have already completed their solid waste management plans. It also has a program called Adapt a River involving the barangays and NGOs, urging a community administration of the province’s river system, including its regular cleanup.