Greenpeace launches ‘Project: Clean Water’

Manila, 8 October 2007—Citing the urgent need to safeguard the country’s precious fresh water resources from contamination, Greenpeace today launched ‘Project: Clean Water,’ an initiative that aims to catalyze action to protect Philippine fresh water sources. The launch coincided with the release of the report “The state of water in the Philippines,” a comprehensive survey of available information regarding water resources in the Philippines, focusing on the issues of pollution, especially of drinking water and freshwater sources, and water scarcity. It also reviews the country’s existing legal and policy frameworks for water use, quality control, and management.

Based on the said research, Greenpeace cited that:

  1. the quality of fresh water sources is steadily declining while the costs of obtaining clean water is rising;
  2. although many laws have been enacted to protect water, such as the Clean Water Act, these are among the most blatantly abused environmental laws because of poor enforcement; and
  3. although government agencies monitor water quality, the parameters are severely limited and do not include many toxic substances from new technologies, including some of the most harmful compounds known to humans, such as persistent organic pollutants or POPs; and
  4. declining water quality is compounded by the problem of water scarcity which is now a very palpable threat, making access to clean water more and more difficult.

“Water is a renewable resource but it is not an inexhaustible resource. What our research presents is just a bird’s eye view of bigger problems to come if we don’t take serious steps to protect our fresh water sources,” said project lead Greenpeace Southeast Asia Toxics campaigner Beau Baconguis.

The Philippines has an abundance of fresh water resources but ranks second lowest among Southeast Asian countries with fresh water availability. Experts have also predicted that by year 2025, water availability deficit would take place in several river basins such as in Pampanga and Agno, in Pasig-Laguna, in Cagayan Valley, all other regions in Luzon, in Jalaur and Ilog Hilabangan, and in the island of Cebu in Visayas(1). Water pollution, climate change, and inadequate management of water resources are expected to aggravate the problem of clean water availability and access.

Confronting water pollution, Greenpeace says, is of primary importance. Despite government laws and initiatives, there has been no substantial improvement, but rather a continuous decline in the quality of clean water sources. Early this year, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) acknowledged that as many as 50 of the 421 rivers in the country can be considered “biologically dead” due to pollution. And although the government agency, through its Environmental Monitoring Board (EMB), regularly monitors pollutants in identified water bodies, they miss out on the most toxic compounds. A Greenpeace study released last February monitored Tetracholorethylene (TCE) in groundwater sources near the Cavite Export Processing Zone at 70 times above the US environmental limit. The EMB admitted that they have no capacity to test for the said carcinogenic chemical and do not do so. The same chemical was also found in groundwater sources in Las Pinas City a month later as tested by an electronics company.

“Another problem with the existing laws, aside from the fact that they cannot be enforced, is the fixation on standards. The law does not put a stop to the presence of toxic chemicals in the water, but assigns limits, or ‘standards’ about how much of these chemicals can be tolerated in the water. This leads to a legalized sort of pollution, because the ‘allowable standards’ for example of lead or mercury in the water, build up in the environment and can still end up in our food, or in our water,” said Baconguis. “Clearly, what is needed is a system that goes beyond standards, and focuses on prevention–cleaning up production processes on the front end- rather than contain, disguise, or dilute whatever toxic effluents end up in our water.”

“Clean water is a right for all. It is time that serious solutions are enforced,” said Baconguis.

As part of the ‘Project: Clean Water’ launch, Greenpeace is holding a photo exhibit on fresh water, in Robinson’s Galleria from 10 to 17 October, as well as various activities in the next few weeks.

Note:
(1) Philippine Environment Monitor 2003