The problem

Page - September 29, 2010
The State of Freshwater Sources in the Philippines

Imagine a world where a liter of water costs two or three times as much as a liter of gasoline because our water supply has become so poisoned that there are very few sources of freshwater left. Many people poke fun at this scenario, saying that it’s never going to happen, but the reality is that it could happen sooner than we think. The pollution of the world’s freshwater supply is already happening at an alarming rate, and if we do not take measures to stop what’s happening, we could be facing a water scarcity crisis very soon.

Industry’s unfettered disposal of toxic materials and byproducts into our water supply plays a huge role in the growing water crisis. In the Philippines alone, chemical pollution is quickly taking its toll on our limited supply of fresh water. A lethal cocktail of hazardous chemicals are being dumped daily into such major water sources as the Laguna Lake and the Pasig River.  Data from the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) of the Philippines showed that out of the 127 freshwater bodies that they sampled, 47% percent were found to have good water quality. However, 40% of those sampled were found to have only fair water quality, while 13% showed poor water quality.

Most alarming of all was a statement from then Environment Secretary Angelo Reyes that as many as 50 of the 421 rivers in the Philippines are already considered “biologically dead.” Biologically dead rivers no longer contain any oxygen and cannot support any but the hardiest kinds of species. If this dangerous and toxic practice continues, a bleak, waterless landscape may not be far from our country’s future.

What caused the widespread pollution of our wastewater?

The major sources of water pollution in the country are inadequately treated domestic wastewater or sewage, agricultural wastewater, industrial wastewater, and non-point sources such as rain- and groundwater runoff from solid waste or garbage deposits, which is also known as leachate.

Here is a brief look at the pollutants found in each of the categories mentioned above:

  1.  Industrial wastewater: The kinds of pollutants found in industrial wastewater varies according to the types of industries involved, but some common pollutants are chromium, cadmium, lead, mercury, and cyanide. Non-point sources/leachate: The same kinds of pollutants found in industrial wastewater can also be found in leachate.
  2. Agricultural wastewater: This can include organic wastes such as decayed plants, livestock manure, and dead animals, soil runoff due to erosion, and pesticides and fertilizer residues.                                                    Domestic wastewater/sewage: This can contain bacteria and viruses that can threaten or even be fatal to human life.
  3. Other sources of water pollution include oil and/or chemical spills, mine tailings or spills, and the illegal dumping of wastes in or near bodies of water.

Which areas of the country are most affected?

According to data from the Philippine Environment Monitor (PEM) and the EMB, four regions had unsatisfactory ratings for their water quality criteria. These include the National Capital Region (NCR) or Metro Manila, Southern Tagalog Region (Region IV), Central Luzon (Region III), and Central Visayas (Region VII).

It is also useful to note that the Ilocos region (Region I) was found to be one of the highest contributors to nitrate contamination.

Where can I find more information about these issues?

Greenpeace’s report, The State Of Water Sources In The Philippines, gathers available information regarding water resources in the country. The report focuses on the issues of pollution -- especially of drinking water and freshwater sources -- and water scarcity. It also reviews the country’s existing legal and policy frameworks for water use, quality control, and management.

Download The State of Water Sources in the Philippines