[The first part of this article appeared on Tuesday June 17, 2014.]
In Mindanao, the Department of Energy (DOE) warned that the power crisis could further worsen because of El Niño. The hydropower-dependent region is already suffering rotating brownouts that last for as long as 16 hours in some areas due to lack of capacity to meet demand. Government could not produce more capacity since privatization under the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira) prohibits it from building new power plants.
Malacañang has yet to issue a comprehensive and coordinated plan to address the looming El Niño, except to ask the public to conserve water. The Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) is also promoting water conservation tips instead of designing a clear contingency plan to ensure supply of potable water.
Some government agencies though have already announced their initiatives. The DA, for instance, said that an initial P1.61 billion has been allotted to help affected farmers. A chunk of this is meant for stocking and distribution of farm inputs (P729.9 million) and for construction, repair and rehabilitation of irrigation facilities (P499.8 million). The rest will go to crop insurance, cloud seeding and others. But of the initial DA funds, only less than half (P764.3 million) is available while the rest is still being requested from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).
Another source of possible funding is the Grassroots Participatory Budgeting Process (GPBP). It is a program that allows city governments to access as much as P50 million (for municipalities, P15 million) from the national coffers for infrastructure projects to mitigate El Niño’s impact. However, only local government units that passed “standards of financial transparency and good governance” can access the GPBP.
Small and poor farmers are more vulnerable to the adverse effects of El Niño since they are already marginalized even when water supply is abundant. Because of privatization and lack of genuine agrarian reform, they suffer from perennial water “crisis” for use in their livelihood.
Take the case of the country’s irrigation system. As of 2013, only 1.68 million hectares out of 3.02 million hectares of irrigable area are irrigated. This leaves 1.34 million hectares or 44% of irrigable area relying on rains that exposes them to an episode of prolonged drought. These data were taken from the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS).
Of the total irrigated area, the NIA-built irrigation system accounts for only 44 percent while those assisted through other government agencies comprise less than 10 percent. A significant portion of irrigation system is still provided through communal (34 percent) and private (12 percent) systems.
In the past 13 years, the country’s irrigated area has expanded by 317,141 hectares that “improved” irrigation from 44 percent of irrigable area in 2000 to 56 percent in 2013. But this is not because of significant government intervention. In fact, the annual expansion of communal and private irrigation systems since 2000 has outpaced the NIA system—14 percent versus 8 percent.
During the same period, irrigable area has even declined by 106,731 hectares mainly due to land use conversion, thus increasing the portion of irrigated area to irrigable area.
Existing irrigation fees are also prohibitive. National irrigation systems, for instance, charge as high as eight cavans per hectare during the wet season and 12 cavans during the dry season. Due to high irrigation service fees being charged by private irrigation systems, cooperatives, and even the NIA, poor farmers could hardly afford to access existing irrigation services. This is a result of commercialization and privatization of irrigation where farmers are forced to shoulder the full cost of building and maintaining irrigation facilities.
NIA itself is earning an increasing amount of revenues from irrigation service fees (ISFs) charged to farmers. In 2012, it reported a net collection of P1.35 billion in ISFs, which was 22 percent higher than its 2011 collection. NIA is also charging management fees, service fees, water delivery fees and others—all of which are shouldered by the farmers. Including these fees, NIA earned P3.55 billion in 2012, almost 32 percent higher than 2011.
Prohibitive user fees also marginalize many poor households from having access to water for domestic use. Since MWSS was privatized in 1997, basic tariff in Metro Manila has increased five to ten-fold. Aside from their guaranteed profits, it has been exposed that Maynilad and Manila Water are also passing on to consumers the cost of their income tax, public relations and other expenses, explaining the exorbitant rates.
Worse, many households already suffer from lack of or inadequate water services even without El Niño. While Maynilad and Manila Water claim almost universal water supply in their service areas, most are actually not individual household connections. Unsafe and unreliable bulk water connections are still common, the private concessionaires’ refusal to divulge data on their extent notwithstanding.
If the Aquino administration’s “response” to super typhoon Yolanda is any indicator, it appears that the people should really brace for the most devastating effects of El Niño. Typhoon Yolanda illustrated the incapacity of government to deal with disasters – a result of both the character of the President as a leader and the existing government policies such as privatization that undermined relief and rehabilitation efforts.
El Niño will certainly again demonstrate how privatization has rendered government inutile in the face of disasters. It could not design a comprehensive plan with government at the center precisely because it has given up its mandate to ensure water for the people especially amid a situation like El Niño.–(c) IBON Foundation.
IBON Foundation, Inc. is an independent development institution established in 1978 that provides research, education, publications, information work and advocacy support on socioeconomic issues.