Widespread drought and wildfires are depressing scenes that we often see on foreign television news now. Without doubt, these natural phenomena are the telltale signs of climate change that is being precipitated by man’s disrespect of the environment.
A water crisis and drought are already wreaking havoc on the Middle Eastern countries of Syria and Iraq. Over 12 million people in Syria and Iraq are losing access to water, food and electricity, warn the Norwegian Refugee Council and other aid groups
The NRC notes that rising temperatures, record low levels of rainfall and drought are depriving people of drinking and agricultural water. It is also disrupting electricity as dams run out of water, which in turn impacts on the operations of essential infrastructure, including health facilities.
“The total collapse of water and food production for millions of Syrians and Iraqis is imminent,” says Carsten Hansen, Regional Director of the NRC in an agency statement published on Aug. 23, 2021. “With hundreds of thousands of Iraqis still displaced and many more still fleeing for their lives in Syria, the unfolding water crisis will soon become an unprecedented catastrophe pushing more into displacement.”
The drought has adversely affected the Tigris-Euphrates river system that feeds into the two countries. More than five million people in Syria directly depend on the river, says the NRC. In Iraq, the loss of access to water from the river, and drought, threaten at least seven million people.
The NRC warns of more catastrophes. “Some 400 square kilometers of agricultural land risk total drought. Two dams in northern Syria, serving three million people with electricity, face imminent closure,” says the agency.
“In Iraq, large swathes of farmland, fisheries, power production and drinking water sources have been depleted of water. In the Ninewa governorate, wheat production is expected to go down by 70 per cent because of the drought, while in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, production is expected to decrease by half. Some families in Anbar who have no access to river water are spending up to US$80 a month on water,” says the NRC.
California farms in the US are experiencing the same phenomenon. Lush fields have turned into brown to the dismay of American farmers, threatening the US food supply. The drought in Central California has forced state and local authorities to abruptly reduce water supplies to save enough for urban residents.
Over in Europe, wildfires have engulfed huge swathes of forests in the continent. Firefighters have battled to contain the wildfires in a seemingly unwinnable war. Similar firestorms earlier overwhelmed Spain, France, Italy, Tunisia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece, Algeria, Morrocco and Albania.
Wildfires are a rarity in the Philippines while drought in this archipelagic nation is a cyclical occurrence that reduces the supply of drinking water and depletes reservoir and river levels. The latter can drain water resources needed in irrigating farm lands and powering hydroelectric dams.
A long dry spell can also lead to limited water supplies, and in some cases, force utility companies to reduce the flow of drinking water to consumers. But residents and businesses in the eastern part of Metro Manila and nearby suburban areas are luckier.
Barring any fortuitous event, we may already scratch water security from the list of challenges plaguing our lives these past few years. Manila Water Co. Inc., a unit of the Ayala Group, is accomplishing a local engineering feat. It is nearing the completion of the P5.5-billion Novaliches-Balara Aqueduct 4 (NBAQ4) project of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System scheduled by June 2022.
The aqueduct aims to improve the reliability and security of the raw water transmission system and guarantee water availability for more than seven million people in the East Zone franchise of Manila Water.
Once the NBAQ4 is in place, operations of the three other antiquated aqueducts may already be temporarily suspended one by one for inspection, assessment and eventual rehabilitation. The old aqueducts already exceeded the service life of 50 years for concrete structures, having been built in 1929, 1956 and 1968.
The current aqueduct system delivers 1,600 million liters per day (MLD) of raw water from the La Mesa Reservoir to the Balara Treatment Plants (BTP) 1 and 2.
The new aqueduct, meanwhile, will be capable of conveying 1,000 MLD, and provides emergency redundancy in the event of a failure in any of the three ancient aqueducts.
NBAQ4 is the largest water supply infrastructure project in Metro Manila. It is already making history as the first underground aqueduct in the metropolis, constructed under the busy Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City.
A tunnel-boring machine, the first time utilized in Metro Manila, has already broken through at the La Mesa Reservoir, more than seven kilometers away from its entry shaft at Balara in Quezon City. With the pipe laying done, Manila Water can now construct the intake tower, outlet tower and downstream network system.
Manila Water has teamed up with Arup as project management consultant and NOVABALA joint venture, the project’s design and build contractor. The joint venture is composed of CMC di Ravenna (Italy), First Balfour Inc. (Philippines) and Chun Wo Engineering (Hong Kong).
MWSS board of trustees chairman and OIC administrator Gen. Reynaldo Velasco (Ret.) considers the Manila Water flagship project a landmark achievement under the Duterte administration’s “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program.
MWSS is working on interim and long-term water source projects to approximate at least 4,000 million liters per day in the next 10 or 25, or hopefully, 50 years.