Water plays a vital role in life sustenance on earth, and will become increasingly critical in the future given the continuing population growth and economic development. There is growing and conflicting demand for water for domestic, agricultural and industrial purposes in the face of water scarcity, inadequate infrastructure and limited access to water, and habitat destruction and pollution, all of which affect water quality and quantity. The availability of and access to water has become one of the most important challenges that countries face today, and water resource management has become a major priority in most countries where water supply shortage is threatening their development.
The goal of the water use and supply management program is to increase the amount of water available to users while protecting water resources, water-dependent natural systems and interrelated habitats. The ecosystem-based management approach ensures an integrated and holistic approach to the management of river basins down to the coastal and marine areas. This involves protection of forests, watersheds, wetlands, surface water (rivers, lakes, streams) and groundwater aquifers to ensure adequate water supply and acceptable water quality. Greater attention is also given to the promotion of water reuse, recycling and other conservation measures as well as the upgrading of water supply and distribution systems to reduce losses, and improving cost-effective technology such as in desalination of seawater to increase available water supply. Access to safe water at a convenient distance and at an affordable price provides a boost to human health and productivity.
While many PEMSEA countries are located in comparatively water-rich Southeast Asia, they all unfortunately face the same problem of water shortage due to decades of water misuse, destruction of tropical rainforest especially catchment areas, severe water pollution, excessive extraction of groundwater, and poor and unregulated land resource management. Given the many agencies involved in water management and with overlapping functions, institutional arrangements have to be streamlined, with proper delineation of roles and responsibilities. Policies and programs are also needed to be set in place for the regulation of use and extraction, including proper allocation among various users; pollution reduction to mitigate contamination of surface water and groundwater; water tariff restructuring and application of market-based instruments, such as user fees, to reflect the full value of water as a resource; and regular monitoring of surface water and groundwater quality and quantity.
Water — A Catalyst for Cooperation
Water issues have become a topic for regular dialogues among mayors and senior officials of urban cities in the region. At the 2004 mayor dialogue hosted by Xiamen Municipality, concerned mayors and senior officials discussed the threats of water shortage and signed the Xiamen Declaration expressing their concerns and commitment in addressing water resources problems. The water issue will continue to be a topic of concern in the World Ocean Week (WOW) to be held in November 2007 and subsequent WOW events in Xiamen.
In the Philippines, a River Basin Control Office (RBCO) has been set up under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to coordinate and oversee water-related programs and projects in the country, and effectively manage the multiple uses of water and other natural resources from the river basins to coastal seas. A Philippine Integrated River Basin Development and Management Masterplan has been developed. In the Manila Bay area, the RBCO is focusing on the two major river basins of Pampanga River and Pasig River-Laguna de Bay. PEMSEA is currently providing technical assistance and working with the DENR and other stakeholders to strengthen the RBCO in terms of institutional arrangements and operating mechanism for integrated river basin and coastal area management; provide recommendations on policies required; develop and demonstrate a methodology for preparing an integrated river basin-coastal area investment plan for pollution reduction (pilot site in a sub-basin of the Pampanga River Basin); develop a river basin module in the Integrated Information Management System for Coastal and Marine Environment (IIMS) and strengthen the Manila Bay Information Network (MBIN).
PEMSEA has been supporting local governments on several water- related initiatives and promoting an integrated management approach in addressing the use and supply of water resources. In Sihanoukville, Cambodia, protection of water sources is being done through coastal use zoning. Water sources are rehabilitated through reforestation efforts and vigilance against illegal construction near the area.
In Lao People's Democratic Republic, the Xedone Integrated River Basin Management Project (XIRBMP) is a community-based integrated water resource management (IWRM) demonstration project that involves the participation of the provinces of Saravanne, Seikong and Champasack. Through the project, it is hoped that public awareness and technical competence will be increased to improve management capacity of local government officials and communities in managing multiple use of water resources. Among the activities slated under this project are capacity- building initiatives for strategic planning, reduction of water pollution, and creation of small-scale livelihood projects.