• DENR rushes national sewer, septage system

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    The government is now working double time for the implementation of a national program aimed at improving sewer systems, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said on Monday.

    In a statement, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said that government agencies tasked to address a wide range of water and wastewater problems are beefing up efforts to tremendously increase the coverage of sewerage and sanitation services throughout the country.

    Approved in June 2012, the National Sewerage and Septage Management Program (NSSMP) seeks to improve water quality and public health in the Philippines by 2020, by improving the ability of local implementors to build and operate effective wastewater treatment systems.

    The initial phase of the prog-ram—consultation among representatives of local government units (LGUs) and water districts from highly urbanized cities (HUCs) enrolled in the program—has just been completed.

    The next phase would be the actual implementation of the program, which has an ultimate goal of providing sewerage and septage system within urban areas to minimize adverse effects of wastewater discharges.

    Recently, the DENR hosted a meeting to update agencies on the implementation of NSSMP, whose formulation was mandated under Republic Act 9275, or the Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004, as well as to identify other mechanisms and approaches to hasten and facilitate its enforcement.

    He said that under the law, all subdivisions and condominiums, commercial establishments, hotels, hospitals, public markets and government buildings should have been connected to the sewerage system by 2010.

    “Unfortunately, as of 2010, only 30 percent of these areas had sewer coverage due to limitations in the sewerage network itself,” Paje pointed out.

    “However, we are making resolute and palpable progress, and we hope to achieve 100-percent sewer coverage by 2018 provided we make the right investments,” he added.

    One such investment, he said, is the establishment of more joint sewage-septage treatment plants similar to that in Veterans Village in Project 7, Quezon City, set to be inaugurated on October 17, which can treat 2,400 cubic meters of sewage generated daily by village residents and 240 cubic meters of septage from nearby areas.

    Paje also cited the low-cost, small-scale wastewater treatment facility put up by the city government of Muntinlupa in its public market that cleans 210 cubic meters of sewage in a day, and allows the recycling of treated wastewater for cleaning and flushing purposes.

    The environment chief lamented that even with the Clean Water Act being “a landmark law and one of the best in the world in terms of quality standards” that resulted in marked improvement in the delivery of clean water, the country continued to lag behind other nations when it comes to sewerage and sanitation.

    “Sadly, over 20 million Fili-pinos still have no access to proper sanitation, and only less than 10 percent of the population is actually connected to piped sewerage,” he said.

    Action needed
    Paje urged LGUs to take the initiative of putting up their own sanitation and wastewater treatment facilities and ensure that their constituents are “prevented from dumping garbage into our waterways and to avoid toxic sludge excavated from septic tanks reach the rivers.”

    A 2009 study by the Asian Development Bank revealed that 58 percent of the country’s groundwater was contaminated by infectious waste coming from unsanitary septic tanks, wastewater discharge from industries, and runoffs from agricultural fields and dumpsites.

    Such contamination had been found to have caused the “death” of major water bodies—rivers unable to sustain aquatic life, beaches unfit for recreational activities such as swimming, and increased the incidence of waterborne diseases. Fishermen have also been venturing farther out to sea for decent catch of fish supply.

    The NSSMP was formulated to enjoin identified HUCs to provide sewerage and septage services in order to cushion the negative impacts of wastewater discharge on the quality of water resources.

    One of the initial outputs of the NSSMP was the formulation of the Project Implementation Plan that aims to develop sewerage systems in selected HUCs in three phases from 2012 to 2020, with the national government shouldering 40 percent of the
    costs.

    The HUCs include the cities of Baguio, Cebu, Angeles, Tacloban, San Pablo, General Santos, Zamboanga, among others.

    A Program Operations Manual was crafted by the Department of Public Works and Highways to provide guidelines for the HUCs in developing their respective sewerage and septage management systems.

    According to the manual, which was released in March, more than 20 million Filipinos have no access to proper sanitation, seven million of them still practiced open defecation; and that half of septic tanks in the country had not been emptied for the past five years, if at all.

    Together, these cost the Philippines an economic loss greater than P78 billion a year, 55 deaths daily, and considerable damage to natural ecosystems and biodiversity, the manual stated.

    The World Bank’s Philippine Environment Monitor of 2003, meanwhile, pegged losses due to water pollution at more than P56 billion annually: P2.6 billion to health, P14.7 billion to fisheries, and about P39 billion to tourism.

    James Konstantin Galvez

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