THE government on Thursday unveiled a master plan to improve the country’s water supply and sanitation that would require P1 trillion in new investments until 2030.

Based on the Philippine Water Supply and Sanitation Master Plan, P734.32-billion in investments was needed between 2020 and 2023, while another P335 billion is needed for the succeeding seven years to achieve universal access to water supply and sanitation for all Filipinos and meet development goals.

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) said the master plan would be funded mainly by the national budget, and the unrealized spending targets should be carried over to meet water-related development goals.

Considering an average of P100 billion in yearly budget requirement, NEDA Assistant Secretary Roderick M. Planta said the government only spent an average of P5 billion in the past two years, which translated to a staggering P95-billion annual investment gap that needs to be addressed in the next nine years.

“That’s why [there is also a] need to have proper regulatory institution for the sector because inconsistent regulation across different regulators could sort of stifle investment from the private sector,” Mr. Planta said.

Socioeconomic and Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua cited the need to provide 57 million Filipinos with water connections and avoid a repeat of the 2019 water crisis in Metro Manila.

“Gaps in our sanitation service subsector also pose other health risks. Only 18% of Filipinos have access to septage management services, while merely 13% have access to a sewerage system. Worst of all, more than four million Filipinos are still constrained to practice open defecation. These conditions expose Filipinos to higher risks of acute bloody diarrhea, cholera, typhoid fever, and other waterborne diseases,” Mr. Chua said on Thursday.

The NEDA Board Committee on Infrastructure approved the master plan on April 6, creating a singular framework for planning, program implementation and funding in the water sector.

Mr. Planta said establishing a single water regulatory body that will consolidate the fragmented agencies would not only contribute to the sector’s growth but also help boost resources and attract investments.

“Institutional reforms for the sector is the linchpin of the master plan because countless studies have shown that fragmentation of the sector needs to be addressed to ensure that investments would come our way,” he said.

The NEDA backed the creation of a Department of Water Resources as the apex body to implement the master plan, and an independent economic regulatory board.

“The idea is to get all the water sector-related functions from different agencies and amalgamate these into one institution. If the legislation did not push through over the short term, the alternative option is to strengthen the National Water Resource Board, which can be done through an EO (executive order),” he said. — Beatrice M. Laforga