Inequality Calamity

by Juan L. Mercado

“We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one,” explorer-scientist  Jacques Yves  Jacques Cousteau badgered anybody within hearing distance.  That fact underpins  “Asian  Water  Development  Outlook  2013”.

Published by Asian Development Bank, this study takes a hard look at water security. It uses five interlocking prisms: from erratic household taps,  slumping water tables  in cities  to  water-related disasters.

There is no substitute for water. Every man, woman and child needs  almost four liters of water daily.  “We drink it.  We generate electricity with it. We soak our crops with it. Yet, we’re stretching supplies to the breaking point”, cautions   the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development.

Our “water abundance”  is a shattered myth.. Each Filipino has 4,476 liters of “internal renewable resources.” Malaysians have 21,259 liters. Cebu City , siphons twice what it’s aquifers can  recharge.

The  old  saw that  “water  is an inexhaustible resource is now recognized as a fallacy,” the ADB  report says. “Political and economic choices will determine the speed at which the path…to a water secure future is traversed.  ( They’ll )  determine the quality of life for billions of people”. 

Inaction can jack up  incidence of illness and number of deaths. Lack of  water blights  sanitation. Only 43 percent of  Philippine households  have  piped water. That’s better than Indonesia’s 20 percent, the “Household Water Security Index” found. Malaysia’s 97 percent indicates what is achievable. 

As a result, vital   “sanitation  access” is  74 percent  for the Philippines. We’re  almost on par with Vietnam. However, Thailand is way ahead at 96 percent   Regionwide,  “more than 792 million  people still suffer the indignity of practicing open defecation”  ADB notes. Come  2015,  we’ll flub the Millennium  Development Goal Target 10:  “To reduce by half  the proportion of people without access to improved sanitation”.

This spawns  what  the report dubs as : the “Inequality Calamity”.  “The wealthy have better access than the poor to water supply and sanitation.  The  most  striking  inequality is in access to sanitation. The  disparity is widening, especially in burgeoning smaller cities…”

As in the Philippines?  Today, we have 143  cities, up from 60 in 1991. Some like  Naga in Cebu and Batac in Ilocos Norte, flunked  minimum criteria of income, population and area. . Expect more “sneak-in” bids to become cities in the 16th Congress. Most will be  ill equipped to  handle what’s called “DALY”

This is shorthand for  “age-standardized  disability-adjusted life years”. This gauges effects from dry taps by  tracking  diarrhea toll  per 100,000 people.

DALY  counted   528  Filipino victims   and  483  Indonesians. In contrast,  Sri Lanka pared that toll list  down to only 153, just a few strides behind
South Korea. 

How did Colombo do that?   Listen to  33 candidates seeking to be elected senator.Only  former Palawan governor  Edward   Hagedorn spells out water policies.

And present inertia can wipe out modest gains in water security, over the last 15 years. “Public utilities responsible for providing water and sanitation services to communities in India and the Philippines  were found to lack capacity in all aspects of sustainability,” a UN commission notes. These include: effective functioning, financing and demand responsiveness.  “These governments are increasing investment to meet MDGs without committing the necessary investments to adequately maintain existing systems…( These )  will reinforce existing inequities and exacerbate social injustice…”

Water security is zapped by many factors, writes Global Water Partnership’s Mohamed Ait-Kadi.  These include population surges, increasing  pollution, over-pumping  of groundwater to climate change. “Current planning and management have proven insufficient…” Governance is key to  boosting  water security. This “intersectoral process requires leaders to break through silos, to span boundaries, and to create a positive nexus among water, food, and energy security.”

Do we have such leaders? Their compelling task is  to craft integrated water resources management, specially where it matters most: at local level. The need is most critical , specially in river basins and cities.

LGUs could  make “ the best use of already developed water resources”. How?  By investing in and “incentivizing reduce, reuse, recycle” systems, ADB suggests. They’re  best placed to “mobilize rural communities for equitable access to water and sanitation.”

Far  too  many  LGUs  fitter away their Internal Revenue Allotments  for  basketball courts and waiting sheds no one uses. End that scam. Invest IRAs for  better sanitation to boost health and productivity.

Groundwater is a limited resource. Davao to Tacloban and Baguio  should jump start  their  water agencies  through  reform and, if need be,  “corporatization’.

To meet “the water–food–energy nexus” head-on, national government  should overhaul  irrigation institutions for better delivery of  services. It must garner resources to clean up cesspools that once were rivers or lakes.  Consider for the long pull,  shifting away from obsolete and costly reliance on disaster relief. Craft instead new insurance mechanisms.

“No one-size-fits-all solutions can be applied , ADB cautions. Appropriate solutions in each country will reflect it’s  resource endowment, rung on the
economic development ladder, economic plans — and  culture.

“Water is the driving force of all nature” as  Leonardo da Vinci reminds us.


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