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On March 22, the Philippines along with the rest of the world will celebrate World Water Day (WWD) by focusing attention on the importance of freshwater and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. This will also be the highlight of the country’s celebration of March 19-25 as Philippine Water Week.

Every year, the celebration of World Water Day highlights a specific aspect of freshwater. For this year, the global theme is “Water and Food Security”, to draw attention on actions that would ensure food for all by conserving water resources.

At the national front, the celebration is being complemented with a local theme, “Katiyakan sa Tubig, Katiyakan sa Pagkain”, to emphasize the significance of conserving and protecting our water resources to sustain food production for generations of Filipinos.

The United Nations and World Health Organization have reported that over 6 billion people, or around 86% of the current population of 7 billion, have access to safe drinking water. On the downside, the remaining 14% remain vulnerable to diseases as they do not have sustainable access to improved drinking water sources.

By 2050, there will be two billion more people on the planet, needing 70% more food to eat. This food will mostly come from crops, livestock, fisheries, and forest products, which will all require water in all the stages of production and consumption.

In the Philippines, the still-increasing population of 95 million has put a heavy demand on our dwindling freshwater resources. The decreasing quantity is compounded by declining water quality aggravated by climatic phenomena such as El Niño and La Niña, as well as indiscriminate human activities in our river basins – from over-extraction of groundwater, wasteful consumption of water, pollution of waterways, and degradation of watersheds.

The recent Global Conference on Land-Ocean Connections discussed how land-based activities have repercussions on the ocean. The resulting Manila Declaration thus called on member-countries, including the Philippines, to adopt integrated management of water resources such as “ridge to reef” approaches, as well as sustainable use of nutrients in wastewater treatment and fertilizer use to mitigate possible negative environmental impacts.

This is why the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has advocated for the sustainable management of the country’s water resources through “an integrated river basin management, anchored on good water governance and effective water conservation, protection and rehabilitation measures.” Among these are: the implementation of the Integrated Coastal Resource Management Project which includes management of upland activities as part of conservations strategies for coastal and marine resources; and the partnership from various sectors in cleaning up waterways that lead to major water bodies such as the Pasig River and Manila Bay in the National Capital Region, and all other water tributaries nationwide.

The DENR, together with the Departments of Agriculture and Public Works and Highways, are also set to converge efforts in improving the infrastructure needed to ensure sustainable water supply particularly for irrigation, much needed in our farmlands. This will also help guarantee enough water supply for everyone during the hot summer season, especially in highly populated urban centers such as Metro Manila.

Yet these efforts would be for naught if the rest of us do not seriously heed the call to do our share in conserving water. Aside from the more obvious ways of using less for activities such as cooking and washing, each one of us should be more conscious of our water footprint by being more conscious of wastage in the way we consume food, goods and services; learning how to better utilize our water resources; and reducing or limiting pollution from inappropriate industrial and agricultural practices that compromise the availability of freshwater. It is our civic duty to make freshwater available for all and for future generations.