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Water Infrastructure Development in the Philippines: Challenges and Opportunities

One of the most pressing and prevalent issues in developing countries such as the Philippines is water security. According to data from Water.org, an estimated 5 million Filipinos continue to make do with unsafe water sources. Moreover, around 9 million do not have access to proper sanitation and wastewater management. This means that these people are at constant risk of disease or death, and continue to experience adverse effects on many other aspects of their lives, such as on their income and livelihood.

Development of appropriate and sustainable water infrastructure in the Philippines is the key to attaining water security in the country. In order to come up with viable solutions, the major problems concerning a valuable resource such as water need to be identified and studied well. Here are just some of the challenges that people face in relation to water infrastructure.

Lack of Access

To say that there is a huge unaddressed demand for proper household connections to water infrastructure is an understatement. This entails not only access to safe and reliable delivery of potable water, but it also includes wastewater disposal as well. When people think of water, they only consider it for human consumption but overlook the need to discard used water safely and properly. Indeed, a complete water infrastructure should include proper toilet and sewage facilities as well.

Access is of particular concern to an archipelagic country such as the Philippines because of the presence of communities in far-flung and hard-to-reach islands. Along with other utilities such as power, water has traditionally been difficult to bring to Filipinos in different provinces and regions. In city centers, meanwhile, there is also increasing demand due to rapid urbanization, migration of people, and increasing commercial and industrial activities.

Deteriorating Infrastructure

If there is no lack of access, there is a problem that also lies in the deterioration of any existing water infrastructure. The absence of a clear and well-implemented urban master plan in some cities in the Philippines, for example, has led to patchwork solutions with no long-term vision in place. Damage to water infrastructure not only affects the timely delivery of water but also its safety, as the water supply can be infiltrated with waste water, industrial pollutants, and other harmful contaminants.

Lack of Funding

According to experts, a big hindrance to substantial funding for water infrastructure projects—whether from the government or from the private sector—is a lack of appreciation of its importance. They think that this may be caused by the fact that water systems are not as palpable or immediately visible as other types of infrastructure projects like buildings or roads. Indeed, since water infrastructure lies under the ground and is out of sight, it tends to get taken for granted or overlooked until the problems are already far worse than when it started—and by that time, more money is needed to address the situation.

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Climate Change

Climate change is perhaps the single most defining phenomenon affecting water security in the 21st century. For decades, scientists have been sounding the alarm regarding people’s use (or misuse) of natural resources such as water. Today, people are experiencing the consequences of years of neglect toward water resources. Additionally, destructive practices such as the decimation of forests have led to excessive carbon in the atmosphere, damaging the ozone layer and upsetting the natural weather cycles.

This has been the cause of the massive and extreme weather disturbances that the world is experiencing today. Storms have become more destructive and unpredictable. Rainfall, which is an important source of water for human consumption, has been severely affected. While some countries are experiencing debilitating drought, others are being inundated with fatal floods. Clearly, such occurrences have been impacting water security in a negative manner.

Where to Go from the Current Situation

Despite all these challenges, it’s not yet too late to work on the solution of a more resilient, reliable, and sustainable water infrastructure in the Philippines and elsewhere in the world. First, communities need to be capacitated with knowledge on the value of water as a life-giving resource. People need to be reminded of the age-old tenets of water conservation, as well as proper personal and community hygiene through proper wastewater treatment and management.

Funding should not only be focused on increasing access but also on rehabilitating, repairing, or retrofitting old water systems. There are innovative technologies and techniques these days that can provide water security to a wider number of citizens through water treatment and storage, distribution and delivery, and even harvesting water locally. Fresh, potable water can even be recovered from the oceans through desalination processes.

Most importantly, a holistic appreciation and respect for nature is needed. Humans should realize that water security is part of the bigger challenge of addressing climate change and decarbonizing the environment. Going for renewable sources of energy, for instance, may seem like an unrelated point of action, but it actually contributes a great deal to mitigating damage to the ozone layer and helping rebalance climate cycles.

Only when humankind learns to coexist with nature can the problem of water security be attained not just hopefully in this lifetime but for many generations to come.