By Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman

THE Philippines has 30 water-related government agencies, and yet, around eight million Filipinos still do not have access to potable water. And by 2040, the country will likely experience severe water shortages because of the impacts of our population growth and our vulnerability to climate change said a study by World Resources Institute, a nongovernmental global research organization.

“The continued overlapping and fragmented regulation of water supply services in the country by several government entities is one factor that hinders the enactment of a doable and long-term solution to prevent water shortage,” said Senator Loren Legarda at the Water Challenge Forum held at the Marriott Hotel on June 14.

She said the 30 agencies must be reassessed and then the similar ones joined and the irrelevant removed. Because these agencies work on their own, the problem is the absence of consolidated data, said Dr. Sevillo D. David, Jr, executive director of the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) during the forum. NWRB is an attached agency of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources that is responsible for conservation, preservation, and development, among others, of the country’s water resources. It does, among many things, river basin surveys and reviews water resource development plans.

The NWRB is among the 30 water agencies.

The issue of overlapping water-related agencies is included in the Senate Bill No. 1395 or “An Act Rightsizing the National Government to Improve Public Service Delivery and for Other Purposes.” The bill aims to trim “the fat” bureaucracies in the country. According to Ms. Legarda’s opening statement at the hearing of the proposed bill on Feb. 21, the national government currently has 186 departments, an increase from 175 departments in 2000. She said the national government employs an estimated 1.3 million workers. And the increasing number of government agencies “has a significant impact on our budget,” as well as on services and efficiency — she said that for this year, P990.5 billion of the P3.35-trillion budget is allocated for personnel services alone.

The bill is a consolidation of Senate Bills which Senators Vicente Sotto III, Gregorio Honasan II, Miguel Zubiri, and Ms. Legarda have filed.

“This is an arduous task,” said Ms. Legarda, chairperson of the Climate Change Committee, during the forum. And while the bill has not yet been passed, she said there is a need to focus on the current laws we have and to strictly implement them. “Let’s go back to basics,” she continued, saying that if we want to address problems on water, the government should strictly implement already-existing laws like RA 1989 (Rainwater Harvesting) and the RA 9003 (the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act).

Another forum speaker, Dr. Ernie Ordoñez, secretary general of the National Water Roadmap and Summit 2017, is pushing for the creation of a Department of Water to have a national road map that will address water issues. Citing the joint report “Asian Water Development Outlook” by the Asian Development Bank and the Asia-Pacific Water Forum, he said the water problems are primarily caused by inappropriate management practices rather than the physical water scarcity.