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The Looming Water Crisis.

THE Philippines is touted to be a water-rich country. 'We are an agricultural country, and that says a lot regarding the importance of water supply,' Senator Grace Poe, who is again running for the Senate, said in a recent statement. 'We have provinces that have year-round sufficient water supply, enabling their farmers to plant and harvest year-round, as well.'

The country's weather bureau reported that each year, an average of 20 to 25 typhoons visit the Philippine area of responsibility. These typhoons bring heavy rains, thereby causing flooding.

With this in mind, Poe urged the government to 'look into better technologies and infrastructure' that could harness the country's water supplies. 'We can hit two birds with one stone-prevent flooding and somehow redirect rainwater to arable agricultural lands or to treatment facilities, turning said water into home-friendly public utility for all our households,' she said.

Water is a limited nonrenewable resource: of which a fixed amount exists on the planet: some 1,400 million cubic kilometers, which can be neither increased nor decreased. Most of this, that is, 97.4 percent, is salt water; another 2 percent is locked away in ice caps and glaciers. This leaves only 0.6 percent, or 8.4 cubic kilometers, of which some 8 million cubic kilometers are stored underground.

'Put in another way,' the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations explains, 'if all the Earth's water were to fit in a gallon jug [4 liters], the available fresh water would be just over one tablespoon.'

'Water isn't just a commodity. It is a source of life,' says Sandra Postel, director of the Massachusetts-based Global Water Policy Project. Ideally, a person should have at least 50 liters of water each day to meet basic needs-for drinking, food preparation, cooking and cleaning up, washing and personal hygiene, laundry and house cleaning.

'Water is life's mater and matrix, mother and medium,' Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, Hungarian biochemist and Nobel Prize winner in medicine, said. 'There is no life without water.'

While water brings life, it also takes away lives-a real case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The notion that water can carry disease first occurred to the ancient Greeks. The physician Hippocrates, the ancient innovator of medical ethics, advised that polluted water can be boiled or filtered before being consumed.

'An estimated 50 percent of typhoid cases [in the Philippines] are due water pollution, sanitation conditions and hygiene practices,' said a World Bank report some years back. 'Outbreaks are commonly associated with contaminated water-supply systems.'

Today's 'crisis in water and sanitation is-above all-a crisis of the poor,' said the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) study, 'Beyond Scarcity: Power, Poverty and the Water Crisis.'

'Unlike the energy crisis,' commented Klaus Toepfer when he was the executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, 'the water crisis is life threatening. The level of suffering and misery represented by these statistics is beyond comprehension.'

The United Nations Children's Fund estimated some 9 million people, mostly children, die annually from water-borne diseases. 'The toll is equal to 75 large airline crashes daily,' a UN official estimated.

Examples of water-borne diseases are typhoid fever, cholera and hepatitis A or E. Often, diarrhea is the main symptom. People with low resistance, mainly elderly people and young children, are vulnerable to these diseases.

Installing a flush toilet in the home increases a newborn's chances of celebrating a first birthday by 59 percent, the UNDP study showed. In the Philippines, out of every 1,000 kids, 27 never make it to their first birthday.

In industrialized countries like Sweden or Japan, water-borne disease is a subject for history books. But in the Philippines and other developing countries in Asia, it involves hospital wards and morgues.

'All of these diseases are associated with our failure to provide clean water,' said Peter H. Gleick, director of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security. 'I think it's terribly bleak, especially because we know what needs to be done to prevent these diseases. We're doing some of it, but the efforts that are being made are not aggressive enough.'

'Water is fundamental for life and health,' the UN Committee on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights said. 'The human right is indispensable for leading a healthy life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite to the realization of all other human rights.'

Something must be done to abet the looming water crisis. 'The world's thirst for water is likely to become one of the most pressing resources issues of the 21st century,' stated the Washington-based World Resources Institute.

Postel thinks so, too. She believes water problems will trail climate change as a threat to the human future. 'Although the two are related, water has no substitutes,' she points out. 'We can transition away from coal and oil to solar, wind and other renewable energy sources. But there is no transitioning away from water to something else.'
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Publication:Business Mirror (Makati City, Philippines)
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Mar 21, 2019
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