About 900 scientific experts and river managers from around the Philippines and other countries are expected to converge and discuss the effective management of rivers and river basins when the country hosts the first ever Philippine International River Summit starting today in Iloilo City.

The summit, co-organized by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), would be held until June 1, with no less than President Benigno Aquino III as featured guest. Local chief executives from areas around the country’s important river basins are also expected to attend the forum, along with river management, aquatic biodiversity and global climate change experts from countries such as the USA, Canada, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.

DENR Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje said that the summit’s theme, “My River, My Life”, fittingly described the importance of rivers in sustaining to human life by serving as transportation waterways and as source of water for industrial and domestic use, irrigation, and hydropower generation. He said, however, that the gathering was “not to pay tribute to rivers, but to explore ways of restoring them to life and productive health.”

“In many places around the world, rivers act as convenient dumping grounds for wastes. Many of these rivers, once teeming with aquatic life, are now either biologically dead or dying,” he explained. “We all need to accept our responsibilities as stewards over rivers not only as waterways or water sources, but also as habitats and ecosystems, and be willing to undertake the laborious and continuing task of reviving and maintaining them.”

According to the DENR, the Philippines is blessed with 421 principal river basins and, as an archipelago, holds sole control over 479 billion cubic meters from ground and surface water. This, Paje said, should theoretically be enough to sustain the country’s economic development and ecological needs at any given time, yet stresses posed by population growth resulting in increased economic activity and pollution could mean “the danger of scarcity of water supply.”

He also cited the various problems facing river management, such as: water pollution due to improper waste disposal and sedimentation from indiscriminate land development; over-extraction of water resources; flooding in low-lying areas due to high incidence of river swelling and inundation; conflicting mandates of water-related agencies; absence of integrated river basin plans and updated information; and weak law enforcement resulting in the unabated proliferation of structures along river easements.

The summit would thus serve as the perfect venue for leading experts, scientists, policy makers, river administrators and practitioners to identify the opportunities, problems and best practices towards effectively managing rivers across four vital issues: governance; biodiversity conservation and management; climate change and disaster risk reduction management; and water quality.

During the forum, the DENR chief is expected to highlight the country’s efforts in managing its rivers and in implementing the Clean Water Act. These include the designation of seven water quality management areas; the adoption of 160 water bodies by 260 partners in the DENR’s “Adopt an Estero/Waterway” program; and the implementation of the National Greening Program in part to restore and rehabilitate the country’s watersheds and mangroves.

Paje added that the DENR plans to institute the summit as an annual global forum. This would sustain Philippine efforts to connect and link to other countries and organizations in coming up with solutions to river management problems.

Organizers for the event are the Iloilo City government, the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company, and Smart Telecommunications.