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Water supply warnings

A 2007 drought left parts of the Philippines short of water for both domestic consumption and farm irrigation, but rainfall over the past few months has provided a sufficient supply.
(Brennon Jones/IRIN)

Last year, the rains in May, June and July, which normally signal the onset of the “wet” season in the Philippines, did not arrive as expected, causing levels of reservoirs to plunge.

The water level at Angat dam, in Bulacan Province, the main source for Metro Manila, with a population of more than 10 million people, and for irrigating farmland in Central Luzon, dipped to 199m, close to the critical level of 180m, due to the long dry spell. At 180m, rationing is necessary.

The low water level prompted distribution facilities to ration supplies in some areas and government authorities to resort to cloud seeding in an attempt to induce rainfall on parched farmlands.

This year, however, is different. Above-average rainfall, caused by a mild La Niña phenomenon, according to climatologists, started in August 2007 and continued for the rest of the year.

“There is no water shortage this time,” said Jess Matubis, corporate communications head of Maynilad Water Corp, which controls the East Zone water concession in the Metro Manila area. “The La Niña rains over the past months and the typhoons in the last quarter of 2007 brought the water level at Angat dam to more than sufficient levels.”

Photo: Brennon Jones/IRIN
The La Niña rains and typhoons in the last quarter of 2007 boosted water levels

Poor hit hardest

Maynilad supplies water to some of the poorest areas in Metro Manila. Matubis said the rationing last year hit the poor the hardest. “They depend on the water rationed to them, whereas the rich can buy bottled water or [afford] to have water delivered to them,” Matubis told IRIN.

He said that as of the second week of April, the water level in Angat dam was 23.95m above the 180m critical level, providing more than sufficient supply at least for the near future. The government’s weather bureau predicts that La Niña rains will continue until June 2008, according to Matubis, which will ensure enough water in dams for the immediate future. “Moreover, when the rainy season arrives in June and July, then we will have more rains pouring into Angat and the other watershed areas from where we get additional water, including the Ipo dam and the La Mesa watershed area.”

Rice production blow

The 2007 dry spell resulted in 127,000 hectares of rice paddies not being sufficiently irrigated and production slumped on Luzon Island, resulting in P600 million to P1.14 billion (US$14.6 million-$25 million) in losses, Jorge Estioko, head of the monitoring and enforcement division of the National Irrigation Authority, told IRIN. That is the equivalent of about 400,000 metric tonnes of rice, which the country urgently needs during the current shortage.

National Food Authority spokesperson Rez Estoperez said the sufficient rainfall last year had ensured sufficient resources to irrigate farms. “Harvest season will start this May and we predict the harvest could ease the rice shortage.”

Rising demand

However, even though present supplies are sufficient for domestic consumption and farm irrigation, said Estioko of the National Irrigation Authority, it does not mean shortages are ruled out. Philippine water experts all agree that the current favourable water situation could change quickly with another dry spell.

But the biggest challenge to maintaining adequate water supplies in the longer term is the relentless increase in demand from domestic consumption, irrigation and the tourist industry, for watering golf courses and creating artificial lakes and fishing areas, for example.

Agnes Bolota, senior technical expert at the German Technology Cooperation Agency, which works with the National Water Resources Board in mapping the Philippine Water Supply Sector Road Map, said guaranteeing an ample supply of clean water would be a challenge. She said the growing Filipino population, estimated at 80 million, was putting a strain on water supplies: “There must be a conscious effort to conserve this resource. Our water supply is not limitless.”


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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