It is time to call this a crisis.
Even as we near the end of June, the rains have not come. Angat Dam has fallen below critical level. The other dams in the Sierra Madre system we rely on for fresh water are following suit.
We were hopeful when a low-pressure area entered the Philippine Area of Responsibility over the last weekend. But it turned out to be too weak and too far to help mitigate the water shortage now gripping the metropolitan area.
There is a disturbing realization here: our teeming cities are actually reliant on rain-fed (not to mention creaky) water impoundment systems. As climate change becomes more profound, we can expect more severe weather to befall us. That includes longer and hotter El Niño months. If our fresh water supply is rain-fed, we are in deep trouble.
I recall we were talking about the Kaliwa and Kanan rivers back to when Fidel Ramos was president. Nothing happened in the intervening period. Now we are ready to build the Kaliwa Dam. But it will take years before we can divert precious fresh water from flowing uselessly to the sea.
We also talked a lot building hundreds of small water impoundment structures to capture rainwater, help relieve the flooding and have fresh water supplies available for communities. Nothing happened, except for a few bulk water enterprises serving rural communities.
Once, anticipating a rather severe bout with El Niño, I recall Congress setting aside a pretty large fund for mitigating its effects. The fund was equally divided among the congressmen although common sense says some areas need the funding more than others.
That money, I suppose, was largely squandered as additional pork barrel. In a few districts, deep-water wells were drilled. The wells were later banned after we realized that they brought down the aquifer water levels and dried up the mountains. They also caused subsidence, where the ground sinks when aquifers dried up, in some parts of Metro Manila. Therefore, that entire El Niño fund went to waste.
In the community where I live, the water pumps disappeared. Someone must have sold them for scrap. We remember them now because the faucets are dry 20 hours of the day.
If no rains come over the next two weeks, the whole National Capital Region will be in deep trouble.
By declaring a water crisis, government should appoint a water czar or something. He will be the central contact person for orchestrating water conservation and rationing. He should also chair a panel to look into the possible criminal negligence of the water concessionaires. They are, under the terms of their contracts, responsible for assuring water sufficiency.
Some leftist group recently proposed we renationalize the water concessions. That will make things even worse.
Those of a certain age remember the National Waterworks and Sewerage Authority. When bureaucrats controlled water distribution, we had no water all year round.
Modern buildings increasingly use steel frames and flat glass skins.
That makes sense. Using steel frames and flat glass skins allow for more usable floor space. The building is much lighter than those that use concrete panels. They manage lighting better and allow more efficient energy use.
But someone should enforce the highest standards on the use of flat glass. We do not want the glass skins of tall buildings blowing in during a typhoon or cracking during a quake. Substandard flat glass will be a hazard instead of a boon.
In the midst of a construction boom, it is easy to imagine that unscrupulous importers or greedy manufacturers could bring substandard flat glass into our market. This will bring about a serious public safety concern.
It is a good thing the DTI, through a department oOrder issued last April, made mandatory the Product Standards for Flat Glass. Like steel and cement, flat glass will now be subject to the technical specifications set forth by the Bureau of Product Standards. A mandatory Philippine Standard (PS) licensing scheme will be introduced covering both locally produced and imported flat glass components to include heat-strengthened and fully tempered flat glass, laminated glass and bent glass.
No glass construction product will be sold in our market without the PS certification. That means all such products will undergo rigorous laboratory testing under government supervision.
We cannot determine the suitability of steel, cement and now glass products simply by inspecting them with the naked eye. Government needs to invest in state-of-the-art laboratory facilities and hire the expertise needed to properly certify products, conduct regular audits of factory systems and random audits of retail outlets to guard against the proliferation of substandard products.
The same protocols applied to steel and cement products should be used on glass construction materials. Importers ought to be able to avail of pre-shipment inspection from the country of origin. Domestic manufacturers will subject themselves to product testing at regular intervals.
As in steel and cement, smuggling will provide a loophole for substandard items to enter our market. The mandatory standards requirements now enforced for glass products will be for naught if corruption continues to run rampant at the Bureau of Customs and smuggled substandard materials continue to infiltrate our markets.
Enforcing product standards, therefore, cannot be the task of the DTI alone. The agency must help train Customs personnel to check product certifications of goods coming in.
Also, all retail outlets need to be regularly monitored. Public safety should be of utmost concern.
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