When water runs out

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The government has once again sounded the call for the public to conserve water in the face of another El Niño episode that is predicted to begin in June and last until early next year.

At the same time, Malacañang announced “long-term measures” to ease the water shortage once the full impact of El Niño sets in. It said it has set aside P1.3 billion to build “small-scale” irrigation systems and repair existing ones. Cloud-seeding operations will also be intensified.

Previous El Niño episodes have been costly for the Philippines. A prolonged drought blamed on El Niño in 2010 left agricultural damage estimated at P8.4 billion as crops wilted and shrivelled. This year’s El Niño, while predicted to be a “weak” one, will be no less destructive.

We agree with the urgency in preparing for the next weather phenomenon, but we cannot but feel skeptical about the Palace’s plan to deal with it.


In the first place, building more irrigation facilities is a waste of time, energy and money if no water flows through them. The problem is not bringing water to the farms, but how to efficiently manage existing water resources.

Cloud-seeding helps replenish water lost to evaporation in reservoirs such as Angat and Magat, but it is not effective all the time. Only certain types of clouds could be induced to make rain, and those clouds must be directly above the reservoir to achieve the maximum effect. A lot of conditions must be in place for it to work.

By one estimate, 85 percent of the Philippines’ water demand is for agriculture. That explains the government’s focus on bolstering irrigations systems. But there are more practical ways of bringing water to parched communities. One senator’s proposal to set up rainwater harvesting facilities in all barangays to take advantage of rare summer showers makes sense.

The balance of the water demand is shared by industry and households. And here is where individuals can pitch in.

The best way to save dwindling water resources is a serious effort to reduce one’s “water footprint,” which, according to the Water Footprint Network, “refers to the volumes of water consumption and pollution that are ‘behind’ your daily consumption.”

The National Geographic website offers helpful insights on water consumption and conservation. It points out, for example, that “10 gallons per day of your water footprint (or 14 percent of your indoor use) is lost to leaks.” Fixing that defective faucet or shower “is one of the easiest, most effective ways to cut your footprint.”

Taking a shower instead of luxuriating in a tub saves about 70 gallons.

National Geographic estimates that “nearly 22 percent of indoor home water use comes from doing laundry.” Yet Filipinos have no qualms about filling their batya (flat basin) to overflowing – and leaving the faucet running – when doing their wash.

The Water Footprint Network reminds us that freshwater “is a scarce resource; its annual availability is limited and demand is growing.” And it warns: “The water footprint of humanity has exceeded sustainable levels at several places and is unequally distributed among people. There are many spots in the world where serious water depletion or pollution takes place: rivers running dry, dropping lake and groundwater levels and endangered species because of contaminated water.”

It is time to heed that warning.

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