Notwithstanding the threat and other challenges facing the water sector, Environment Secretary Antonia Loyzaga believes the Philippines can achieve water security if government and all other stakeholders will work together for the effective and sustainable management of the country’s water resources.

“There is no substitute at this moment for coherence, convergence and synergy in water governance,” Loyzaga said in her keynote address at the recent Financial Inclusion for Women, Water and Climate Resilience Forum organized by the Financial Executives of the Philippines or FINEX.

“With your partnership, I know, these are all possible and water security can be reached and achieved for the Philippines,” Loyzaga said.

Loyzaga said that while it is considered as most vulnerable to climate change, the water sector holds the potential to lead change and deliver transformative solutions in the country’s quest for climate resilient, inclusive and sustainable development.

“Today, more than ever, there is critical need for nexus governance for climate and disaster resilience—one that pursues a strategic balance between supply, distribution and consumption of water for health, food, energy, human and environmental security,” Loyzaga pointed out.

“Building resilience through equity in the water sector requires us to address the ecological, political, socio-economic and engineering risks, as well as, perhaps quite important, the national and local capacity for science-informed governance,” she added.

Loyzaga noted that the government—through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)—is embarking on synergistic approaches to solving the country’s water woes: an attempt to the effective management of water resources and the application of geospatial data.

She said the first synergistic approach was highlighted by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. establishing the Water Resources Management Office (WRMO) in the DENR through an executive order he issued recently.

The newly created WRMO integrates the functions of all agencies with water-related mandates to effectively manage the country’s water resources and to achieve water security.

Loyzaga said the apex body will strengthen the coordination among various agencies and provide the venue for coherent policy formulation and rationalized functions to address cross-sectoral needs.

She also said that the implementation of the presidential directive is aligned with efforts to eventually establish a Department of Water.

“There are long-standing institutional issues which we now have a strong chance of solving and this unlocks some of the barriers in managing water,” Loyzaga stressed. “It also opens the possibility of coordinating projects between agencies to enter with more efficient programs like the construction of multi-use dams and reservoirs.”

Meanwhile, Loyzaga said the DENR is now using geospatial data to monitor the state of the country’s natural resources, including water.

Under Loyzaga’s leadership, the Geospatial Database Office in the DENR was created for evidence-informed decision-making.

She also created the position of Undersecretary for Integrated Environmental Science to ensure that the science needed for ocean-land atmosphere dimensions of the environment and natural resources mandate is embedded in all bureau deliberations and decisions.

“The DENR believes in the power of information and more importantly science and information-based decision making with the support of the best technologies available,” Loyzaga explained.

Using satellite imagery and geographic information systems, the DENR is now able to detect watershed and mangrove health, the recent oil spill and other related hazards, water quality challenges, illegal activities, and potential future water resources for development.

Loyzaga said these two systems will eventually ensure that the DENR is able to identify, account for, mitigate, restore and regenerate the natural capital from ridge to reef.

“In short, we are able to see changes in these terrains and cross-reference them with permits and other instruments,” Loyzaga said.

These new capacities, she added, now allows the DENR to assist in de-risking investment and improve water resource management down to the community level.

Utilizing these new capacities and platforms, Loyzaga said the DENR has adopted a whole-of-government approach to resolving water challenges.

The DENR chief cited the DENR’s use of physical database to work with the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), the National Economic and Development Authority and the local water utilities in identifying the best sources of surface water to serve the needs of local communities.

Loyzaga said the DENR is also currently working with the DPWH and DILG to provide water to 1,374 barangays across Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

She said the WRMO is also working with the private sector to bring water to those who need it most, such as 65 isolated barangays in island municipalities.

“Water is a fundamental resource for human health, economic development and ecological sustainability but also for inclusive and resilient development. It plays a critical role in many aspects of community life specifically food production for example, sanitation, hygiene and energy production,” said Loyzaga.

According to Loyzaga, the DENR’s goal is to secure a robust source of water for all which will be one less challenge for communities already dealing with volatile and uncertain times. #