(This article was written in 2006 for my column, Envirowatch in the Citadel)
James Bond is not part of this story. This is about those who are actively working on achieving the Millennium Development Goal on Environmental Sustainability or often abbreviated as MDG#7.
The MDGs by the way, are the result of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002. Target 10 of MDG # 7 stated to reduce by at least half the number of the people without access to safe drinking water and sanitation by 2015. This means world leaders need to intensify its efforts to serve 1.1 billion people who still do not have access to safe drinking water and around 2.4 billion who lack access to improved sanitation.
Here in our region, it is evident that in far-flung areas, family members still have to walk 3 kilometers or so just to fetch a container or two from springs and wells. Often, these water sources are not adequately treated before use. We happen to visit some communities in Upper Roxas last October and personally witnessed the hard plight of residents there.
The greatest threat to these types of water sources are nutrient and pesticides contamination. The intensive agriculture might pose serious risks to our groundwater sources. Over-fertilization of nitrogen particularly nitrates may cause methemoglobinemia (blue-baby syndrome) among infants. There is no need to convince you that pesticides are not good for your health (take a sip if you are not convinced).
It is good that the government is having water supply projects. However, some of these projects are inadequately treated. Well, some of the rural folks would say, it is better than having no water at all. But the threats as I have outlined before are not to be disregarded and should form part of an integrated planning of providing ample and safe drinking water supply.
Adding complexity to the problem is the expected increase in volume of sewage once there is ample (and excessive) water supply. The more water available, the greater is your consumption and subsequently wastewater. An example in case, Kidapawan City is known for a good water supply and not-so-good Nuangan River. This suggests that along with water provision, a planner needs to consider subsequent wastewater management. This is costly, however. But the cost of neglecting this part of the picture is health care cost, drops in fish production and tourism, etc.
Greywater reuse and ecological sanitation were some of the options considered. These measures are designed to lessen wastewater discharges.
I happened to read a presentation on Water and Sanitation (WatSan) by the Cotabato Provincial Planning Office before the Provincial Development Council meeting late last year. It outlined among others several strategies planned by the province to address several water quality issues in light of the implementation of the Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004 (RA 9275). The report listed in managing wastewater specifically “Ecosan”. I am happy that the provincial government is addressing the issue of wastewater management.
What it is ecological sanitation? Ecosan proponents vouch a water conserving approach to waste under the principles of containment, treatment and reuse. An example is the double vault toilet system diverting urine and feces. The solids are separated and once stabilized can be applied as fertilizer. Another interesting design is the composting toilet were toilet waste fall into a sawdust matrix inside a composting chamber mounted in a basement beneath the toilet floor.
Japanese designers are clever enough to place some buttons to automate mixing wastes inside the composting chambers. Well, these are options for households. How about in a larger scale? I leave it for the next issue.