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 More than a hundred participants representing water stakeholders from both public and private sectors attended the one-day National Forum on the State of Rivers in the Philippines held Monday (March 14, 2011) at the Sulo Riviera Hotel in Quezon City.

Organized by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the forum highlighted the national celebration of March 14 as the International Day of |Action for Rivers, with the local theme: “Save Philippine Rivers”. It also served as a venue for consultation with the various stakeholders on the protection, rehabilitation, conservation and governance of the country’s rivers and river basins.

DENR Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje called the event “timely” in light of the devastating earthquake which hit Japan recently, and which brought to fore problems in water supply for badly hit areas.

In his keynote speech, Paje lamented the people’s low regard in managing the country’s water resources. “At any given time, the country has 146 billion cubic meters of water available, yet we are treating it like a free resource… we are throwing water away by the second, and we are not managing it properly,” Paje said.

Paje also underscored that despite the abundance of water in the Philippines, not much of it is available for public consumption because of problems in “catching” and “keeping” the water such as through water impounding systems; lack of infrastructure, especially for irrigation; and pollution of water bodies.

Paje said addressing such issues would enable the country “to release water at the proper time and proper place, when we need it,” especially during disasters and calamities, as he called on the people to help protect the country’s rivers and river basins, which are considered the “bloodstream of society” supporting life of communities surrounding them.

A river basin is a portion of land that drains to a large river with an estuary or ocean as a final destination. The country has 421 principal river basins, with 20 major river basins having a drainage area of more than 1,000 square kilometers. Yet, a rapidly growing population resulting in increased economic activity and water pollution are putting stress on water resources, prompting the DENR to call for action amid a threat of scarcity of freshwater.

The DENR is initiating or collaborating with other government agencies a line-up of events to bring more attention to the need for sustainable water management. These include the Pasig River Fluvial Parade in Manila (March 15); Walkthrough and Boat Ride at Estero de Paco and Estero de San Miguel in Manila (March 16); Water Trail in Quezon City to be led by water concessionaires (March 21); Filipinos Walk for Watert, which is a local version of the Worldwide Walk for Water, and Executive-Legislative Dialogue on Water with President Aquino at SM Mall of Asia, and Symposium on Best Practices on Water at Micro Tel near SM-MOA, all on March 22 in celebration of World Water Day; Water Quality Management Area Forum at Richmond Hotel, Quezon City (March 24); and river cleanup of Estero dela Reina/Tullahan in Gagalangin, Tondo (March 25).

World Water Day is celebrated every March 22. This year’s theme is “Water for Cities: Responding to the Urban Challenge”, which aims to spotlight and encourage governments, organizations, communities and individuals to actively engage in addressing challenges of water management in urban areas.