Three million people in the Philippines put their lives at risk every day by using unsafe water sources. Moreover, another 7 million do not have access to improved sanitation and sanitation services.
According to Water.Org – a global non-profit organization that aims to deliver water and sanitation to the world – although the Philippines’ economy is registering rapid growth, it still faces massive obstacles in terms of access to water and sanitation.
In a country that is registering rapid increases in urbanization, communities are struggling to meet the basic sanitation needs of the incoming new citizens.
Although local government continues to take action to lessen the decline in the quality of water reserves, the country is still among the leading nations in terms of plastic water pollution. The Philippines is home to more than two-thirds of all animal and plant species on our planet and due to water pollution, the country is one of the world’s most threatened biodiversity hotspots.
Defining water pollution
When dangerous chemicals and microorganisms reach waterways, they contaminate bodies of water such as rivers, lakes, seas, and oceans. The quality of water thus deteriorates and becomes toxic for both humans and the environment. This is known as water pollution.
Water pollution and biodiversity
Data shows that both biodiversity and the quality of water in the streams that feed into Laguna de Bay – the Philippines’ largest lake – are deteriorating. A significant factor in the country’s declining species diversity is plastic waste which makes its way to the ocean where it is consumed by birds and other sea life.
According to research in the Science Advances journal of the AAAS released in April 2021, the Philippines is home to 28% of the world’s rivers that are polluted by plastic. During the process of degradation, plastic particles acquire new chemical and physical characteristics that may increase the risk of becoming hazardous to living things.
The Philippines is one of the biggest plastic pollutants on the planet, with 0.28 to 0.75 million tons of plastic escaping into the waters each year from coastal locations in Manila Bay together with hundreds of thousands of tons of plastic waste that are dumped in the country’s rivers.
Fishermen have complained that plastics are suffocating the coral reefs which has an impact on the ecosystem as a whole as well as causing a decrease in fish yields.
The 2021 research from Oxford University, Our World in Data, showed that Asian rivers contain 81% of all the plastic that reaches the oceans, with the Philippines accounting for about 30% of that total. In addition, the Pasig River’s share of plastic is over 6%, with the remainder coming from other rivers including Agusan, Jalaur, Pampanga, Rio Grande de Mindanao, Tambo in Pasay, Tullahan, and Zapote.
The 27 km Pasig river that runs through the nation’s capital was once a vital commerce route but the river has now been polluted due to inadequate sewage systems and urbanization. Locals collect rubbish from the banks of the river every morning, filling bags in their never-ending quest to clean up a stream that is also a key source of plastic waste.
In the Philippines’ poorest communities, waste is rarely collected, and sometimes not at all, resulting in unlawful dumping. This waste ultimately seeps into the maritime ecosystem and has detrimental effects on both the fishing industry and environmental tourism.
Environment protection in the Philippines
The government is seeking to stimulate 60% plastic reuse by 2030 and is offering the private sector opportunities for technology transfer and integration in the management of plastic waste.
In 2021, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, in partnership with other federal agencies and commercial organizations, commenced its five-year initiative to bring the Pasig River back to life by making it cleaner with a sustainable river garbage collecting system.
In June 2022, the country’s main environmental authority noted great achievements regarding the water quality in Manila Bay, suggesting that the current bay restoration project that aims to clean up and replenish the local waters so that they are suitable for swimming and other physical enjoyment is showing some success.
The Philippines currently registers the fastest economic development among its ASEAN peers but this rapid development, along with an increasing level of urbanization, is leading to the pollution of waters with toxins coming from plants and farms, as well as tons and tons of plastic, which can all contaminate the soil and seep into water ending up in the world’s oceans. The government is aware of this issue and for several years has been taking action to deal with it by restoring Manila Bay, among other areas, and has ambitious plans to restore rivers across the country.