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Water management is an urgent need

Water is a fundamental necessity, yet a significant portion of the global population, numbering in the billions, remains without reliable access to clean and safe drinking water.

In the United Nations’ World Water Development Report 2023, roughly two billion individuals globally lack access to clean and secure drinking water, while about 3.6 billion people, constituting 46 percent of the world’s population, do not have sufficient sanitation services.

About 297,000 children under five die every year from diarrhea — a very preventable disease — because of poor sanitation, poor hygiene, or unsafe drinking water. 

Even more concerning is the fact that over time, there has been a decrease in commitments toward water, and the financial resources allocated to achieve UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) six are inadequate to address the needs of countries, as reported by the UN. Data gathered by UN from 20 developing nations and territories reveal a substantial 61 percent shortfall between the identified requirements to reach national targets for water, sanitation, and hygiene, and the actual funding available.

Urgency of water management

Here in the Philippines, the urgent need for sustainable water management strategies has been highlighted once again as the country was affected by the El Niño phenomenon, which exacerbated challenges on safe water access.

According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Water Resources Management Office (DENR-WRMO), while 67 percent or about 74 million of the population have access to piped and potable water, the remaining 43 percent face critical water shortages. 

While this scarcity of safe drinking water was caused by decades of misuse, poor management, over-extraction of groundwater, and contamination of freshwater supplies, it is exacerbated by rapid population growth and urbanization.

Furthermore, climate change is compounding water scarcity. The melting of glaciers results in changes of river flow patterns and causes rising sea levels, which can lead to saltwater intrusion, contaminating drinking water supplies.

To address water insecurity, we need to redefine our approach to water management. We must plan not only for our present needs, but also for the needs of the next generations of Filipinos. Our strategies must take into consideration climate change impacts, as well as climate phenomena like El Niño and La Niña, which both affect the quality of water.  

According to UN Water, we have to treat water as a scarce resource so that we all take conscious efforts toward responsible use and management of water resources. An integrated water resources management (IWRM) approach will provide a broad framework for governments to align water use patterns with the needs and demands of different users. It can control water stress by measures such as reducing losses from water distribution systems, safe wastewater reuse, desalination and appropriate water allocation.

However, IWRM depends on good quality data on water resources; water-saving, green and hybrid technologies; and awareness campaigns to reduce the use of water in households and encourage sustainable diets and consumption.

Furthermore, we must explore, protect and sustainably use groundwater to survive and adapt to climate change and meet the needs of a growing population.

Most important of all, our actions need to be urgent. We cannot wait for tomorrow. For when the well runs dry, then we might be too late. 

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