Water “Black Magic”

by Juan L. Mercado

El Nino burnt about P10 billion worth of crops, Agriculture Sec. Berni Fondevilla frets.  The drought jacked up poverty incidence from 35 to 38 percent UP economist Arsenio Balisacan warns.  That’s the bad news. The “good news” is: Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmena hired a “water diviner”. Mrs. Soledad Legaspi, 80. Moses struck the rock, at bone-dry Meirbah, with his staff and water gushed forth. But this mother of five from Laguna merely points.

“Ms “Loleng” found 20 springs in water-short South Reclamation Properties, City Hall breathlessly claims. She located another 30 in cinder-dry  barangays. “She very accurate and I trust her 100 percent”, the mayor told Cebu Daily News.

Auditors were not amused  at consultancies for psychics. Yet, Cebu is the most dessicated of 136 Philippine cities. Unless drastic policy reforms are crafted, a crisis is inevitable, say studies by World Bank, Tokyo’s JICA to Delft University.

“Cebu has no water problem”, Osmena sneered.  This “world-is-flat” diktat became policy. Despite a 21-year old rain-harvesting law, Cebu didn’t build a single facility, Magsasaysay Awardee Antonio Opposa noted. Metro Cebu Water District serves only 55  percent of residents.

The city siphons over double what it’s crumbling underground reservoirs recharge. But babies and migrants tripled demand   Water tables have slumped. Salt water has seeped into aquifers eight kilometers inland, causing irreversible damage.  Forests are a two percent sliver in encroached watersheds.

Osmena unveiled his “magic wand” on World Water Day. Since the 1994 Earth Summmit, 172 countries mark WWD in March. “Quality of Water”  is this year’s theme.  “Clean up or die is the core message,” Visayan Daily Star noted. “The rest is commentary.”

Climate change, toxic chemicals to sewage and  salt intrusion degraded water quality. “You can not wash dirty water,” an African proverb says.

The ecological decay spawns a Jekyll-and-Hyde paradox, notes “Water Development Outlook”. From life giver, water turns into killer.

Half of Philippine groundwater is contaminated,”  Asian Development Bank notes. Only a third of rivers can serve as public water supply.  All of Cebu City’s rivers are biologically dead.

Clear water upstream morphs into a lethal cocktail as it meanders through littered rivers and chemical tainted creeks. Depletion of groundwater resources is increasing. Only 95 small poorly-regulated plants treat hazardous waste.

More children, under five,  die from diarrhea due to polluted water than Abu Sayyaf raids.  Tainted water causes  gastro-enteritis, typhoid, hepataitis, etc.   Nine out of 10 in Tawi-Tawi and seven in Lanao del Sur must drink from open, easily-contaminated wells, says Philippine Human Development Report 2009.

It is an obscenity if “people can not drink water without courting disease or death”, Worldwatch Institute’s Sandra Postel writes. “No nation can survive with poisoned wells.”

Only seven percent of households here are connected to sewer systems. But local officials splurge Internal Revenue Allotments  in self-serving honoraria,  ‘study tours’ ( a.k.a. junkets) etc. This leaves people exposed to  water laced with human waste and chemicals.

“When it comes to water and sanitation, (we) tend to have short memories”, UN’s Human Development Report notes. London, New York or Paris today are dynamic centers because they harnessed “one of the most powerful changes for change: the separation of water from human excrement.”

“Philippine Environment Monitor” keeps tab on water, among other resources. The parameters used are telling:  

On  “Water Quantity/Availability”:  Basins of Agusan and Mindanao have the highest amount. Cebu the lowest. Shortages will be in  Cebu, Pasig-Laguna, Pampanga…(b) “Salt Water Intrusion”: “Critical areas are: Cebu, Iloilo, Dagupan, Cavite, (c)  “Coliform, Pesticides &  Others”.  Heavy metals and toxics contribute to pollution in Metro Manila, Cebu and mining areas in Cordillera.

At the 21st century’s start, “annual economic losses, caused by water pollution,  were estimated at P67 billion”, adds the Monitor. Biggest losses were in  health – P3 billion, and  P17 billion from depleted fisheries.

“The Philippines has many water related laws,”adds the World Bank. “But their enforcement is weak and beset with problems. ( These) include: under-funding, poor database, weak cooperation among agencies and local governments.”

Water shortages are political TNT.  Madagascar dumped it’s president in March 2009 when he allowed water-short Korean firms to farm on the  island.  California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger threatened water rationing. .It is clear,” says the UN World Water Assessment Programme, “that urgent action is needed if we are to avoid a global water crisis.”

Osmena senses the potential backlash of a water crunch.  Politicians in Cebu  have staked 8,944 claims for 12,987 lots in thinning watershed . Babies and migrants  will triple water demand to 210 mcm/yr in 2030.  And consequences of his blocking proposals to tap surface water out the city are  unraveling.

The alternative has always been clear:  terminal collapse of  underground aquifers – unless Ms. Loleng will cast her “Ol’ BlackMagic” spell, as  the 1942 Broadway pop song put it.

Councilor Edgardo Labella didn’t wait to find out. Declare all mountain barangays as a calamity area, he suggested.  “High time that’s done”, Mayor Osmena  told reporters. 

See. That’s thinking out of the box.

(Email: juanlmercado@gmail.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

Leave a Comment