ISSN 2330-717X

When Water Is Thicker Than Blood – OpEd


The sight in Manila without water was ugly. Thousands of  angry people, many sleepless, unbathed,  and tired, under the punishing heat of the sun, shoved and jostled for water that never came.


They  were set to lynch officials from the Manila Water Company or MWSS for that matter.

The short water crisis  must be a lesson that will push everyone to action. Rich or poor, government official or civilian, student or teacher, administration or opposition, all must do something to ensure water supply and conservation of water.

From morning till night, we all use water; we drink  it,  cook with it, bath and wash with it, grow food with it, make products with it and even cool things with it.

Water plays a key role in conserving nature; ecosystems depend on water flows.

But by all indications, the water crisis could be worse. And things can turn uglier.


So Why Do We Take Water for Granted?

We all use water but have different interests (e. g. love for money and power) and different priorities (eg. properties, material things). We have different ideas and perceptions of what should take priority and most of us find it difficult to understand the need of others.

Worst of all, beyond any religious affiliation, many have no reverence, respect and  concern for  creation. We use resources unmindful of others, of the future, of those yet unborn.

While many indigenous  and local peoples practice conservation as a way of life, modern man has to create policies and laws for those who understand only consumption, extraction and greed.

As  assasinated Igorot hero Macli-ing Dulag  who  resisted the proposed Chico dam in 1980 said, “Water is life to the Igorots” but to the World Bank, it meant money flowing from the sweat, blood and tears of  Filipino taxpayers. To the then Marcos administration, it meant hydroelectric power for the cities, more industries and more irrigation.

There is little indication our priorities have changed. While thousands of Manilans queued under the sweltering sun, tired, sleepless, hungry and angry for water, shoving and quarreling, golf courses soaked under water, using as much as 16,000 liters of water a day,  and swimming pools of the affluent were regularly changed of water.

In at least 20 provinces from Ilocos Norte to Zamboanga Sibugay, farms and farmer s are suffering from drought while their politicians who have done little to temper the effects of water shortage are wasting money to once again entrench themselves to power.

Negotiating Scarcity

The   brief water crisis in Manila is a tip of  an iceberg but should teach everyone a lesson or two. First, there is  a need to bring stakeholders and actors together for participatory planning and management of water resources.

It is absurd for Manila’s 13 million people to just allow the protection of the 60,000 plus hectares Angat watershed to a few forest rangers. The politicians who were quick to exploit the situation for  media mileage, and remiss in their jobs, should  make sure enacted conservation laws are funded,  enforced and improved to protect better the watershed.

There  is a must for enhanced collaboration and cooperation between government agencies  tasked with water functions. In many instances, higher accountability for water management and ensuring peoples’ rights to water use and access should be drawn.

Accountability and rights are both key prerequisite and should be an integral part of all stakeholder negotiation process.
Indeed, water is life.

Dr. Michael A. Bengwayan

Dr. Michael A. Bengwayan wrote for the British Panos News and Features and GEMINI News Service, the Brunei Times, and US Environment News Service. In the Philippines, he wrote for DEPTHNews of the Press Foundation of Asia, Today, the Philippine Post, and Vera Files. A practicing environmentalist, he holds postgraduate degrees in environment resource management and development studies as a European Union (EU) Fellow at University College, Dublin, Ireland. He is currently a Fellow of Echoing Green Foundation of New York City. He now writes for Business Mirror and Eurasia Review.

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