By Darryl John Esguerra

WATER SUPPLY. President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. convenes a sectoral meeting with the water sector in Malacañang on Tuesday (May 7, 2024). The President, during the meeting, ordered relevant government agencies to focus government efforts on the 40 million underserved Filipinos who have no formal source of water. (Presidential Photojournalists Association)

MANILA – President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. directed relevant government agencies to focus on serving the 40 million “underserved population” found to have no formal water supply.

Marcos gave the directive during a meeting with the water sector in Malacañang on Tuesday.

Department of Environment and Natural Resources Undersecretary Carlos Primo David said the underserved population consists of Filipinos who source their water from deep wells, springs, creeks, and even rainwater, most of whom reside in Mindanao, especially in Bangsamoro communities.

“We have roughly around 7,600 plus islands but not many people know that 5,500 of those are small islands and many of these small islands do have communities, mostly fisherfolk and each and every one of those do not have access to water,” David said in a Palace press briefing.

“The islands that I refer to have an area, on average, (of) around one square kilometer so they’re really tiny islands and this is what the President wants us to focus on.

He said among the steps that they are looking at is to integrate water resource systems and infrastructures to ensure proper and sustainable management of water.

Part of the initiative is to construct desalination plants in the communities to turn salt water into potable drinking water.

“We have a priority list of 65 island barangays that we want to start with,” he said, referring to the establishment of desalination facilities.

Meanwhile, Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Secretary Manuel Bonoan said the President emphasized during the meeting the importance of integrating the agency’s flood control management projects to help conserve and use water for other purposes, such as irrigation and hydropower.

“This is a direct instruction of the President to me that we have to integrate all these components, particularly in the major projects, flood control projects of the department (that) we’ve been undertaking. So, this is what we are going to do,” Bonoan said.

National Irrigation Administration (NIA) chief Eduardo Guillen, meanwhile, said the agency continues to develop dams for multipurpose use, among them agricultural irrigation, fresh water supply, power supply, and flood control.

“Iyon po ‘yung ginagawa natin ngayon, iyong resources natin, ay nag-uusap po kami para mas marami pong pakinabang at mas makatipid tayo sa implementation ng mga projects (That is what we are doing, we are working with other agencies like DPWH to maximize our resources and save more in the implementation of our projects),” Guillen said.

David said Marcos directed the relevant agencies to further explore foreign funding for identified priority investment areas for both local and international stakeholders.

In April last year, Marcos signed an executive order creating the DENR’s Water Management Office, which then conducted a mapping and inventory of the country’s water resources.

The inventory found that 20 million Filipinos are being served by the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewage Systems (MWSS), 22 million by water districts, 20 million by local government-run water utilities, and 10 million by private water supply providers. However, 40 million are still underserved by formal water supply. (PNA)