Metro Manila exceeded itself again in being a region of queues. It was not just the ridiculous traffic or the perennial breakdowns of the rail. Residents found themselves in the middle of an entirely different horror story. Armed with their plastic pails, men and women, young and old alike waited in long lines to get water rations from firetrucks. Those living in high-rise condos and in the slums suffered the same fate when water taps suddenly ran dry. The water crisis in the metropolis was a great equalizer. Now, the nightmare is creeping into Central Luzon’s households.
A 2017 study by the University of the Philippines Los Baños, funded by the National Water Resources Board, predicted that the water woes of the Metro will be mirrored in key areas of the country, including Central Luzon, by 2025. Water scarcity is in our midst.
As if keeping pace with the rapid development of the region as an economic hub, our water reserves are depleting fast due to pollution, commercial exploitation, and increasing demand. Public health, businesses, and the environment will be compromised unless radical action is taken immediately. Though individual initiatives of public and private entities have emerged in the region, these projects, though well-intentioned, largely remain scattered and fleeting.
In view of this, the Subic-Clark Alliance for Development (SCAD) together with government and private stakeholders created the Technical Working Group for Metro Clark Watershed Management, tasked with crafting a framework that will unify the fragmented efforts around the shared vision of a sustainable water supply for generations to come. It ultimately aims to bridge all stakeholders through a council that will craft a common and comprehensive approach for the protection of the lands and resources within watersheds in the area, and consequently will secure a long-term solution to the looming water shortage.
The TWG is composed of the Bases Conversion Development Authority; Clark Development Corporation; Department of Environment and Natural Resources; National Commission on Indigenous Peoples; provinces of Pampanga and Tarlac; cities, municipalities and water districts of Angeles, Mabalacat, Porac, Bamban, and Capas; Metro Angeles Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc.; Clark Investors and Locator Association; Widus Foundation; Clark Water Corporation; and the Sibul ning Aeta Foundation. Other government agencies and environmental organizations, including the concerned indigenous peoples’ organizations (IPOs), have since been identified to also participate in the TWG. SCAD, meanwhile, serves as its secretariat.
The initial implementation of the framework will target the Sacobia watershed which covers 11 barangays in Pampanga and Tarlac. Its strategic location, characterized by its potential as a main supply of water in Clark—which is one of the centers in the massive infrastructure program of the current administration— positions it as the top priority.
A tree-planting committee was recently created by the TWG in an effort to regreen the watershed and its surrounding mountains to alleviate the threat of it drying up. Other interventions such as information campaigns, barangay workshops and training for the indigenous people and their employment as the main rangers for the watershed are also being discussed.
The framework is projected to be adapted for the other watersheds within Metro Clark in the future to address the rising population and expanded metropolitan needs brought about by economic progress in the region.
Blueprint for watershed initiatives in the country
Though progress will be gradual, since trees will not grow and cover the mountains until a couple of years and water reserves will need time to replenish, the framework will spur immediate measures avoiding further degradation of water resources. It will also serve as a blueprint for other watershed initiatives in the country. While the development of Central Luzon is an ongoing priority and will remain so for the foreseeable future, SCAD and the TWG stand committed to protecting the environment, so something common as taking a shower will hopefully not be at the whim of nature.