P1T needed till 2030 for universal water access

    Water-sufficiency goal. A man fetches water in Mandaluyong in March 2019 when residents experienced low pressure to no water supply due to the decline in the water level of La Mesa Dam. (Photo by RHOY COBILLA)

    At least P1 trillion investments are needed until 2030 to meet the government’s target of providing universal access to water in the country.

    “…but this (amount) does not include the ideal piped water system and full sewerage systems,” said Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles at a virtual briefing hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines yesterday.

    Nograles said private sector should be incentivized to invest in water and wastewater systems but these investments should operate under a strong regulatory regime to prevent profiteering and monopolistic behavior.

    He said at present, the Philippines has access to about 150 billion cubic meters (cu. m.) of water annually on the back of an average rainfall of 2,400 millimeters. Average water resource availability is at 1,400 cu.m. which is above the scarcity threshold of 1,000 cu.m. but below the 1,700 cu.m. stress threshold.

    Household consumption accounts for only 10 percent of the total consumption in the country while 70 percent accounts for agriculture and 20 percent for industrial use.

    “These figures do not necessarily translate to water adequacy. Our water resources must be utilized through proper water management and water governance,” Nograles said.

    In the same forum, House committee on ways and means chair Joey Salceda, said the required P1 trillion is “quite financeable” and can be raised.

    Salceda said the private sector is a partner in projects of such magnitude but that investors must not be allowed to dominate and override public interest.

    Salceda said the creation of the Department of Water Resources (DWR) as well as a Water Regulatory Commission (WRC) would be crucial to the success of the 2030 target as the functions of these two proposed agencies will significantly improve the development of water related projects.

    The DWR is seen to become an “overall apex body” fir the entire water sector to oversee the overall planning, programming, policy formulation and management of the resource which is currently being delegated to over 30 different agencies to date.

    The WRC will serve as an independent and quasi-judicial body that will handle the licensing, tariff-setting, performance monitoring and other economic regulatory functions to resolve conflicting functions of water supply and sanitation projects and ensure transparency and predictability in economic regulations, among others.

    National Economic and Development Authority Assistant Secretary Roderick Planta assured even with the creation of the two new agencies, existing legal frameworks for concession agreements and water districts will remain intact.

    These legal frameworks includr the build-operate-and-transfer law, joint venture guidelines as well as agency charters, among others.