The Long-Overdue Dialogue on Climate Change and Water Security
The third week of September 2022 was filled with critical dialogues on a number of key areas of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). In New York, it was the first-ever address of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. before the United Nations General Assembly during its 77th session. He highlighted climate change as the greatest global threat that warrants a global and united effort.
For instance, the Philippines is the world’s fourth most vulnerable country to climate change and is among those nations that absorb more carbon dioxide than it emits. In his UN speech, President Marcos reiterated this uneven and historical injustice where the least responsible suffer most. This is what he refers to as the “if and when” dialogue that has long since passed – a dialogue that needs to happen now.
On the same week, five Filipino organizations came together to lead another critical, long-overdue “if and when” dialogue. The Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, Accra Law, Management Association of the Philippines, The Manila Times, and Water.org joined hands for the first time to tackle and discuss the “if and when” of water security. Like climate change, water security ought to be a dialogue that needs to happen now.
Some 300 participants from the public and private sectors joined the forum on the Sustainable Path to Water Security for the Philippines last September 20, 2022 at the Fairmont Hotel in Makati City. Opening the dialogue was Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Benjamin Diokno, who highlighted the Philippines’ Water and Sanitation Roadmap and outlined the key reform areas. He emphasized the need to mobilize trillions of pesos to address the cost of achieving SDG6 while harmonizing and orchestrating investments from the private sector, international development partners, and local investors. According to Diokno, the Department of Finance stands ready to support all efforts toward the shared goal of achieving universal access to clean water and fighting climate change at the soonest possible time.
The urgency to solve the impact of climate change and its adverse effects on water security was echoed by Carlos Vasquez, Chief of the UNICEF’s WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) Unit. He acknowledged that the biggest externality affecting water security is climate change. Twenty million people a year are displaced globally by climate-related events, and 80% of these live in Asia. Vasquez expounded on UNICEF’s Water Security for All Program which recognizes the importance of a climate-resilient approach to water, sanitation and hygiene.
Also joining the forum was Mayor Aristotle Aguirre of Mulanay town in Quezon province. A first-class municipality with approximately 56,000 in population, Mulanay has a land area of 42,000 hectares or one-third the size of Metro Manila. Aguirre is a newly-elected mayor who is faced with the issue of contaminated water, ground water drying up, and water from wells penetrated by salt water. Physical infrastructure is not up to par with uncalibrated water meters. Although potential alternative sources are available such as the Mulanay River, financial resources are a major concern with majority of its residents living below the poverty line.
Notably at the local level, there are existing enabling policies and market-driven solutions to address sustainable access to safe water and sanitation in the Philippines. The situation of Mulanay is representative of a number of municipalities across the country. On the enabling policy side, the office of Batangas Governor Hermilando Mandanas participated in the forum to educate many about the so-called Mandanas ruling that provides local government units with administrative autonomy to identify priority programs through a bigger Internal revenue allotment based on overall national taxes that can potentially mean more financial resources to address water and sanitation issues.
Through the participation of Water.org in the forum, market-driven solutions were presented. Water.org was founded in 2009 by engineer Gary White and Hollywood actor Matt Damon. It is focused on mobilizing financing to the water and sanitation sector through technical assistance to financial institutions to adapt a loan product dedicated to WASH and to water utilities, especially the small ones, to help increase their efficiencies and therefore enhance their bankability to access finance. After the forum, Water.org and private sector players in water and sanitation sat down to continue the dialogue and identify specific points of collaboration.
If and when dialogues are hard to appreciate. In most cases, it is only until the inevitable happens then the reality of “if and when” dialogues become very relevant. It is truly my hope to see forums that are beyond the showcase of knowledge but rather forums that pave the way for a sustained “if and when” dialogue that lead to concrete collaborations between public and private sector especially on water security and climate change.
Gay Santos is the Regional Director for Southeast Asia at Water.org, a global NGO co-founded by Matt Damon and Gary White. She retired from the World Bank Group in 2019 and holds an MBA degree from the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, USA