Philippines is richly endowed with natural resources, including abundant surface and groundwater resources. However, despite the vastness of this potential supply, the country is experiencing challenges related to water quantity and quality .
According to the World Bank, the Philippines annual water availability per year stands at 1,900 cubic meters per person, which is the second lowest of the Southeast Asian countries and lower than the global average. In addition, water distribution across the county is variable given the difference in climate and rainfall , with some areas already experiencing water stress and water scarcity . Further, irrigation in Asia, including the Philippines, is becoming increasingly vulnerable to water scarcity, a consequence of rising population and increased demands from household and industrial consumption .
A significant portion of the country’s surface waters and groundwater, which are the predominant sources of potable water supply in the Philippines, are contaminated due to low levels of treatment of wastewater and improper sewage management. This contamination of domestic water supply sources is a main cause of diarrhoea, which in 2017, ranked 7th among the ten leading causes of morbidity in the country .
As of 2015, approximately 87.7% of the national population had access to safe water supply, meaning 12.3% of the population (12.40 million people) lacked access to safe water. Additionally, as of 2015, approximately 73.8% of the population had access to basic sanitation. Because of inadequate improved sanitation facilities, more than four million people were constrained to practice open defecation. An additional two million were limited to using unprotected pit latrines or buckets. These conditions expose the population to higher risks of contracting food-borne and waterborne diseases, and other high incidences of water-related diseases, such as typhoid and acute bloody diarrhoea .
Water availability and quality in the country is affected by rapid economic development, urbanization, and population growth . Deforestation also limits the country’s ability to better manage the use of its water, as forests serve as natural water storage (i.e., watersheds) as well as flood management tools (i.e., natural catchments) .
Climate change aggravates the sector’s challenges, such as higher water demand with increasing global temperatures, rainfall variability, sea level rise, and extreme weather events, leaving the country more vulnerable to longer droughts and floods .
Water Supply and Sanitation (WSS) infrastructure, especially in coastal communities, is extremely susceptible to the disruptive and destructive impacts of these climate hazards .
Key policies and governance approach
Key legislative tools governing the water sector in the Philippines include the Water Code of the Philippines (PD 1067); National Water Crisis Act in 1995 (RA 8041); Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004 (RA 9275); Sanitation Code of the Philippines; and the 2009 Climate Change Act , . The National Water Resources Board (NWRB) previously known as National Water Resources Council (NWRC) was vested with powers to coordinate and integrate water resources development as provided by PD 424 in 1974 .
In recent years, the country has progressed in creating a more supportive and favourable enabling environment for Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) implementation, through improvement in terms of both quality and quantity of national policies (issued by National Government Agencys) and local legislative issuances (passed at LGU level) . Recent policies include, among several others, President’s AO No. 16, s. 2019 entitled “Expediting the Rehabilitation and Restoration of the Coastal and Marine Ecosystem of the Manila Bay and Creating the Manila Bay Task Force”; President’s EO 53, s. 2018 creating the Boracay Inter-agency Task Force and providing measures to reverse the degradation of Boracay Island (a famous tourist destination); and President’s AO 32, s. 2020 expediting the review and approval process of Infrastructure Flagship Projects on Water Security. This policy is aimed at accelerating water resources infrastructure development which is one of the key pillars of the Philippine Development Plan (2017-2022) and is essential to ensuring universal access to safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030 .
In addition to these policies, national master plans and development plans have also been formulated such as the Philippine Water Supply and Sanitation Master Plan (PWSSMP) . The PWSSMP 2019-2030 serves as the national action plan to achieve universal access to safe, sufficient, affordable, and sustainable water supply, hygiene, and sanitation by 2030. The PWSSMP defines the activities, responsible agencies, and budget necessary to support the Water Supply and Sanitation sector in addressing the needs of the country .
Three major national plans that are being implemented by the government, in support of IWRM implementation are: (i) the Philippine IWRM Framework Plan; (ii) Philippine Eco-Efficient Water Infrastructure (EEWIN) Strategic Roadmap; and (iii) the National Master Plan of Small-Scale Irrigation Projects CY 2014-2022. The Philippine IWRM Framework Plan is now embedded in the National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAP) and Local Climate Change Action Plan (LCCAP). Water sufficiency is a key priority area of the plan with desired outcomes focused on the resilience of major water resources and infrastructures, management of supply and demand, management of water quality, and promotion of conservation. Another related priority area is ecosystem resilience and environmental stability which during the plan period is focused on achieving one immediate outcome: the protection and rehabilitation of critical ecosystems, and the restoration of ecological services .
Successes and remaining challenges
The remaining major gap in the Philippines lies in the monitoring and assessment/evaluation of IWRM implementation, as identified by stakeholders in the 2020 Stakeholder Consultation Report for SDG 6.5.1. Without effective monitoring and evaluation, it is difficult to confidently assess to what extent the objectives of policies on water are being achieved as well as the extent to which the policies are being implemented and enforced. Additionally, enforcement of national laws/policies and local legislative issuances/ordinances is another area that has been identified as challenging in the Philippines . There is also a need to improve coordination across concerned agencies and organizations.
The ability to reach a high level of performance regarding IWRM implementation and achieve the country’s water and sanitation goals by 2030 will be very much dependent on availability and adequacy of financing, sufficiency of resources (i.e., both human capital/technical and financial) and availability of required competencies/human skill capacities. At present, there has been limited progress in availability of sufficient funding for IWRM initiatives and related elements, at both national and sub national level. Given the massive COVID-19 expenditures and its effect on the country’s economy, it is expected that without international support, the country will only reach, at most, a moderate performance in IWRM implementation by 2030 .
Initiatives and Development Plans
Some of the major programmes and initiatives include: (i) continuous monitoring and enforcement of water quality regulations; (ii) implementation of the Adopt-an-Estero/Water Body Programme; (iii) designation of 17 Water Quality Management Areas (WQMAs); (iv) implementation of the Industrial EcoWatch Programme; (v) implementation of the Beach Watch Programme; (vi) development of the Integrated River Basin Management and Development Framework Plan for the Philippines; (vii) implementation of the Watershed Management Programme; (viii) conducting groundwater resources and vulnerability assessment; (ix) establishing a National Sewerage and Septic Management Programme; (x) establishing an Integrated Water Quality Management Framework; (xi) investments in sanitation, sewerage, and wastewater treatment spearheaded by development partners and private institutions; and (xii) various research and development initiatives on water quality management by DENR, the Department of Science and Technology, and academia.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is implementing the ‘Ecosystem-based Adaptation in River Basins’ project in the Philippines, through a partnership with German-commissioned Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). The project supports national policies and contributes to improving the coordination and integration of sectors through an ecosystem-based approach. Key outputs will be the reduction of hazard prone households, improved water availability and quality, and biodiversity conservation in the Ilog-Hilabangan River Basin in the Visayas Region and the Tagum-Libuganan River Basin in Mindanao. The project will provide impetus for improving the fragmented water governance regime and aims at using the values of ecosystem services as a basis for the private sector buy-in, to contribute to the financing of conservation and protection measures that help to maintain ecosystem services and protected areas and thereby reducing vulnerability to disasters and climate change .
Goals and Ambitions
The Philippines’ overall PWSSMP’s vision is set on two main pillars: (i) universal (100%) and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water by 2030 and (ii) universal access to adequate and equitable sanitation by 2030 .
- The four centres of governance (National-Government, National-Non-governmental, Local-Government, Local-Non-governmental) need to produce compatible decisions and actions.
- The key to strengthen water governance in the country is to enhance transparency, accountability and participation .
- Strengthen and institutionalize systems for more robust, results oriented, progress monitoring implementation tracking and documentation.
- Strengthen inter-disciplinary and interagency collaboration.
- Increase number of reliable sanitation facilities.
- Expand Public Private Partnership (PPP) for water infrastructure.
- Secure assistance from international development partners.
 Lapong, Edward & Fujihara, Masayuki. (2008). Water Resources in the Philippines : An Overview of its Uses, Management, Problems and Prospects. Journal of Rainwater Catchment Systems. 14. 57-67. DOI: https://doi.org/10.7132/jrcsa.KJ00004978343.
 Jalilov, S.M., (2018). Value of clean water resources: Estimating the water quality improvement in Metro Manila, Philippines. Resources, 7(1), p.1. https://doi.org/10.3390/resources7010001.
 WEPA (2013). [Online]. Available: http://www.wepa-db.net/policies/state/philippines/overview.htm.
 National Water Resources Board, UNEP-DHI (2020). SDG Indicator 6.5.1 IWRM Survey, National reporting on status of IWRM implementation 2020: Philippines. Available here: http://iwrmdataportal.unepdhi.org/countrydatabase.
 UNEP-DHI Centre, Global Water Partnership, Cap-Net (2020). SDG 6 IWRM Support Programme, Stage 1 Stakeholder Consultation Report SDG 6.5.1, degree of implementation of IWRM Philippines.
 GIZ (2021). Ecosystem-based Adaptation in River Basins. [Online]. Available: https://www.giz.de/en/worldwide/79964.html.