Water Pollution in the Philippines: Causes and Solutions

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MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines, or the Republic of the Philippines, is a country comprised of 7,107 islands in Southeast Asia in the western Pacific. The country is surrounded by water: the Luzon Strait, the South China Sea, the Sulu Sea, the Celebes Sea and the Philippine Sea. According to the United Nations, uncontrolled, rapid population growth has contributed to extreme poverty, environmental degradation and pollution in the Philippines.

Water pollution is a major problem in the Philippines. According to Water Environment Partnership in Asia (WEPA), 32 percent of the Philippines’ land mass — approximately 96,000 square kilometers — is used for agriculture. The primary crops are palay (rice), corn, sugar cane, fruit, root crops, vegetables and trees (for rubber). Increased population, urbanization, agriculture and industrialization have all reduced the quality of water in the Philippines.

According to WEPA, water pollution’s effects cost the Philippines approximately $1.3 billion annually. The government continues to try to clean up the problem, implementing fines to polluters as well as environmental taxes, but many problems have not been addressed. According to government monitoring data, up to 58 percent of the groundwater tested was contaminated with coliform, and approximately one third of illnesses monitored during a five-year period were caused by water-borne sources. In addition to this, during the dry season, many areas experience water shortages.

On its website, Greenpeace reports the water pollution in the Philippines is mostly wastewater from the following sources:
1.  Industrial: The metal varies according to industry — lead, mercury, chromium, cadmium and cyanide.
2.  Agricultural: Organic — decayed plants, dead animals, livestock manure, soil runoff; and non-organic — pesticides and fertilizers.
3.  Domestic sewage: Contains pathogens that threaten human health and life.
4.  Other sources: Oil, mine or chemical spills and illegal dumping in or near water.

One of the most alarming things Greenpeace reports is that out of the Philippines’ 421 rivers, as many as 50 are considered dead and unable to support any but the most robust life.

Greenpeace has been working to develop a solution to water pollution in the Philippines. The organization supports the Clean Production context in which the public has a right to know which toxins they are exposed to in their daily lives.

The Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (PRTR) also deals with water quality and is “a national or regional environmental database or inventory of potentially hazardous chemical substances and/or pollutants released to air, water and soil. It also contains information on materials that are transferred off-site for treatment or disposal.”

According to Greenpeace Philippines, the concept of Clean Production is “a new way of looking at production and consumption patterns.” The concept of producing consumer goods in this way entails:
1.  The elimination of all hazardous chemicals at all stages of production and the seeking of safe, sustainable alternatives.
2.  The reduction of waste generated.
3.  The decreasing of the need for raw materials and energy.
4.  The utilization of clean, renewable energy sources in the production process and design.

Hopefully with the implementation of PRTR, the public’s right to know and Clean Production, a lot of the problems with water pollution in the Philippines will start to be solved.

The World Bank has helped address the problem of sewage wastewater in the Manila Bay. Its Manila Third Sewerage Project (MTSP) tackled the sewage problem a growing urban population poses. Some of the results of the project were:
1.  Over 77,000 connections to water and sewage were provided between 2005 and 2012.
2.  Approximately 50,000 more septic tanks were de-sludged per year from 2008 to 2012 for a total of over 262,000.
3.  Over 3.5 million people were educated by the project’s “public information campaign” from 2005 to 2012.
4.  Connection to water gave women and children better health and hygiene and more time since they did not have to spend time collecting and sanitizing water.
5.  Soil conditions and crop yields were improved from using treated sewage as fertilizer.
6.  In communities where the waste water treatment plants were built, urban renewal projects also sparked — teams got out and cleaned up river banks; parks were built; and social interaction took place.

The rivers in the capital city of Manila have received some attention lately. For instance, the Marilao River which runs through the Bulacan Province and into Manila Bay was on the 10 Most Polluted Rivers in the World list. The river is contaminated with several kinds of heavy metals and chemicals from tanneries, gold refineries, dumps and textile factories. It is one of 50 dead rivers in the Philippines.

In another instance, a group of nine Filipino artists painted watercolor portraits with sterilized pigments from six polluted rivers in Manila. The images painted are of everyday events, children playing in the rivers, people in boats and families fishing. “The people who enjoy the water are not aware of the dangers,” said Cid Reyes, the curator of the exhibit. Money made from selling the pictures goes to clean the rivers, thus reducing water pollution in the Philippines.

Rhonda Marrone

Photo: Flickr

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