by Senator Edgardo J. Angara
Published on July 7, 2012, Manila Bulletin
About 16 million Filipinos, or some 20 percent of the population, have no access to potable water. Twenty-two million, 24 percent, have no access to sanitation facilities. Apart from water and sanitation scarcity, there is a dire need to wean our country away from fossil fuel dependency and invest heavily in clean energy.
The international community recognizes these as some of the world’s problems. Hence in 2000, world leaders agreed on a monumental framework that strives to foster inclusive growth by focusing largely on human development—the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG's). These include reducing by half the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water by the year 2015, in recognition of the fact that the first step in fighting poverty is by providing water and sanitation for all.
I was in Singapore last week to take part in the CleanEnviro Summit as a guest speaker and panelist. The summit convened leaders, decision-makers and multilateral organization officials to plan effective legislative frameworks and implement application of technological solutions not only to water management, but also renewable energy.
The high-level dialogue explores how policies and strategies can promote a clean environment and stimulate green growth as part of a comprehensive and integrated approach on the energy-water-waste nexus.
Water is the single most important resource that sustains life on our planet, yet the supply of usable water all over the world is rapidly depleting due to abuse and mismanagement of resources. It is a major health issue in the country where more than one-third of diseases are water-borne. It is also crucial in achieving food security, as food production relies heavily on water. Agriculture accounts for 86 percent of water usage.
The Philippines would have to adopt the Integrated Water Resources Management approach, an internationally recognized philosophy governing the use of water based on the fact that is both a human right and an economic good. This is embodied in the Water Sector Reform Act I have filed.
Furthermore, we are not maximizing our natural resources to alleviate oil dependency. The share of renewable energy in our installed generating capacity was 33 percent as of 2010. In terms of actual power generated, renewables produced 26 percent, comparatively higher than many of our neighbors in ASEAN, and even the European Union as a whole.
The potential is much more immense. The Philippines is the second largest producer of geothermal energy in the world, next only to the United States. We are also the top wind power producer in Southeast Asia, and we receive double the solar flux European countries get in a year.
The Congressional Commission on Science, Technology and Engineering (COMSTE), which I chair, is pushing for several promising RE projects. We want the Philippines to be the solar panel test hub of the ASEAN region, to pioneer an electric vehicle testing facility, and develop algae as a large-scale source of biofuels and nutraceuticals.
Renewable energy is a viable long-term solution that can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and lessen the detrimental impacts on the environment. Our Renewable Energy Law, which I authored and was passed in 2008, is considered one of the most comprehensive and forward-looking pieces of RE legislation in Asia, if not in the world. It offers a Feed-In Tariff system, Renewable Portfolio Standards, Renewable Energy Certificates and Net Metering, mechanisms that will help make the RE industry more competitive and reach grid parity sooner rather than later. However, it is yet to be implemented by a foot-dragging bureaucracy and an environment-unfriendly energy elite.
It will take creative financial strategies and strong will to implement reforms to attract much-needed investment in water, sanitation and renewable energy. But it is not only about getting more money. It is also about empowering governments and building their capacity to provide water, sanitation and energy services in a sustainable way.
This era is the Asian century, the time of Asia’s rise as an economic superpower. Asia’s growth path will have to be more sustainable and efficient. Hence, our greatest challenge is to find solutions to the conundrum: how can the developing world develop rapidly without resorting to mismanagement of scarce resources like water and energy?
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