We need to talk about (our lack of) water

(Pixabay/ Pexels)

We’re in the midst of the rainy season, so some might find it strange that I’m talking about a lack of what seems to be all around us: water.

(Pixabay/ Pexels)

Because we live in a tropical archipelago that sits directly on the typhoon belt, we tend to take water for granted. In fact, we tend to think that we have too much of it, if only  because of the floods that beset us every typhoon season.

This misconception that we have more than enough fresh water is a detriment to the agriculture industry. According to Ernesto Ordoñez, chairperson of Alyansa Agrikultura (AA) and president of the Water Security Movement, Inc ( WSM), said in his statement at this month’s Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. (PCAFI) roundtable, “La Niña has arrived. Floods and crop damage will occur. Water is everywhere. But when drought comes, water is nowhere. That is because we only have a dismal 4% water harvesting rate, compared to the 60% rate in India’s selected areas.”

It may be hard to believe because of the heavy rains and occasional typhoons, but the country has a water crisis. Many smallholder farmers do not have access to irrigation facilities, and so have to completely rely on the annual rains to water their crops. This is part of why many farmers produce less than they are actually capable of cultivating. Not only does this lessen their income, it lessens local production in general, which affects the nation’s food security, depriving Filipinos of the opportunity to buy local and reinforcing the country’s need to rely on importation of even the most basic goods.

According to Ordoñez, “Aside from a food crisis, we have a water crisis. Fifty five people die everyday from water related diseases. 16 million people have no access to drinking water. Five million hectares of denuded forest lands and 300,000 hectares of lost mangroves cause massive flooding. 34 of our water related agencies are not coordinated. That is why Pres. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. listed as a SONA priority the creation of a Dept of Water Resources.”

He noted that though the National Irrigation Administration’s (NIA) budget has been increased by P9.2 billion next year for a total of P40.8 Billion, the agency tends to concentrate on larger irrigation projects, whereas smaller ones like Small Water Impounding Project (SWIP) tend to get overlooked, despite their larger ROI (Return on Investment).

According to the Bureau of Soils and Water Management page on the website, SWIP “is a structure constructed across a narrow depression or valley to hold back water and develop a reservoir that will store rainfall and run-off during the rainy season for immediate or future use,” with projects classified as, “earthen dams with structural heights of not more than 30 meters and a volume storage not exceeding 50 million cubic meters.”

Ordoñez cited a study of a P800,000 SWIP  project covering 46 hectares conducted by Professor Ray Naval of Divisoria Norte, Quirino: “At P17,400 a hectare cost, return was an average P31,314 , or 180% return (ROI). For regular irrigation costing P 300,000 a hectare, the return is P44,800 a hectare, or a 15% return (ROI). Therefore, the SWIP in this case yields 12 times the return of regular irrigation (180%/15%). For the additional P9.2 Billion NIA will get next year, similar SWIPs should be considered instead of allocating all the extra funds to large irrigation projects.”

Since a majority of Filipino farmers have small farms, smaller irrigation projects will be of more benefit to them. That it’s cheaper to build and run and has the potential to be more useful than a bigger and more expensive irrigation system is a huge plus for everyone.

Ordoñez urged better coordination between agencies, as well as reiterating a recommendation from the authors of the National Water Roadmap for “the creation of a Dept. of Water, improved water harvesting, and the strengthening of the 18 major public-private River Basin Management Councils to implement the globally recognized Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) system.”

Given all this, he stressed that, “Congress must therefore consider ROI when they review the budgets. It should also look at increasing the funding of the 18 River Basin Management Councils.”

Don’t be fooled by the rainy season. The Philippines is in dire need of proper water management. The sooner we can control our water crisis, the easier it will be to secure our food future.

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Yvette Tan
Yvette Tan is Agriculture magazine's managing editor’s web editor. She is an award-winning writer who likes to eat, travel, and listen to stories about the strange and supernatural. She is dedicated to encouraging people to push for sustainable food sources and is an advocate of food security, food sovereignty, and the preservation of community foodways.

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