Thursday, November 02, 2006

Thinking Water

The other side and perhaps the real side of the war against terror is the war for oil. Called black gold because of its unfading profitability and demand, oil is not renewable and is slowly dwindling with the increasing consumption of both small and great consumers in the mad race towards so-called progress. What will all the oil-dependent countries do when this precious mineral drops to critical levels? I read it somewhere that the solution will be quite simple. Walk, run, bike and use fossil fuel burning vehicles only for emergencies.

How about travel? Again, only for emergencies because by that time, the price of a domestic trip will be equal to what used to be an international flight to the nearest foreign country outside the Philippines. In other words even flights to Cebu, Bacolod, Bicol etc. will cost so exorbitantly that people would rather stay at home than spend so much precious money, unless, of course it is absolutely necessary. While dependence on oil can be lessened by altering and radically simplifying lifestyles, there is another substance perhaps more precious than oil which will no longer give us a choice but force us to change the course of our lives.

Water more than oil should begin to concern if not frighten us. Why? Not only is it getting more scarce, but more and more of it is lost to criminal wastage and pollution. How many still brush their teeth by taking water from a running tap instead of using a glass? How many too often have bubble baths, throwing away gallons of water just for one person’s use? How many use a hose of running or pressured water to clean cars, floors, walls, etc? And how many still mindlessly throw their garbage into rivers, canals or streets where their litter eventually finds its way to these bodies of water?

Waste and pollution are increasing even faster than we can find measures to save water, and more and more urgently, ourselves. Water and life are synonymous. Without water, life will cease. It’s that simple but not that obvious. Blind we have become more and more perhaps waiting for a serious crisis to open our eyes.

A crisis has finally reached the Philippines. First, the water supply in Metro Manila is quickly dropping due to demand and unbridled release of water from its main source in Angat Dam. According to the National Water Resources Board, unless the National Power Corporation or NAPOCOR lessens its use of water from Angat Dam for power (electric) production, there will be a severe water shortage in Metro Manila. Another competing agency is the National Irrigation Agency of NIA which also supplies water to thirsty rice fields. (cf Philippine Daily Inquirer, October 28, 2006, “Warning of Shortage, Water board cautions”) This does not even mention the water consumption of eight million or so people living in Metro Manila or that of commercial centers giant malls and industries.

How is the Government facing this serious crisis? Is it facing it at all? According to the Freedom from Debt Coalition since 1997, the Government’s response has been to privatize the distribution of this most precious commodity. During the Ramos Administration, water distribution in Metro Manila was opened to bidding where the Lopez’s Maynilad and the Ayala’s Manila Water respectively won. Recently, the Lopez’s gave up Maynilad and returned it to government of course with massive debts and losses. The Government who now owns eighty four per cent of Maynilad, instead of improving its services, has instead begun the process of rebidding it again. Interested bidders like greedy vultures are hovering over Malacanang again.

The bankrupt Maynilad needs to borrow $31 million to continue its operation. Also, the government allowed Manila Water not to pay its P 650 million tax arrears for this year. Guess who will carry the burden of the government’s and corporations’ debts and liabilities? Neither Government nor Corporation but the people. Since the privatization of water distribution in Metro Manila in 1997, the price of water has gone up to levels unaffordable to the poor. For instance, Maynilad has raised the price of water by 600% from P 4.96 per cubic meter to P 32. 93 per cubic meter. Manila Water has done the same by raising water price in its area by 700% from P 2.32 per cubic meter to P. 19.73.

At present the government is looking for interested parties who may consider taking over the 84% shares of Maynilad which have been given over to Government after the former went bankrupt. When the Lopezes of Maynilad were granted their share of water distribution in 1997 the dream and promise were better and more efficient water services. Meanwhile, before the dream can be realized and the promise fulfilled, the firm who so aggressively fought for their piece of the water pie has failed and backed out. Instead of reading the writings on the wall, the government will once more take the same road of perdition, privatization.

Pilate needed water to wash his hands of responsibility for the death of an innocent man. In the Philippine case, the government washes its hands not with water but with the empty promises of corporations driven by something other than service. If Pilate’s act did not prevent the death of an innocent man, could the Philippine government be any different? Water is not a simple element which can be commoditised and commercialized. Like land, air, and food, it is part of a country and its people natural resources. Corporations naturally think money. Government as government is there to think people…to think water!

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
November 2, 2006


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