Conflict over water in 2020: mining or agriculture?

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/04 June) –  Water will be a source of conflict and could possibly be a reason for war in 2020 if  the river basins of Mindanao are not managed properly and the crucial resource is not allocated well, Secretary Lucille Sering, vice chair of the Climate Change Commission, warned in her keynote address at the Mindanao Economy and Environment Summit Monday.

But Sering added that water can also be a “catalyst for unity”  depending on how we act now.

Given a reduced rainfall by 2020, potential conflicts over water use have to be defined and studied, she told some 200 participants at the Grand Regal Hotel.

“Mining has been mentioned. Water is crucial… If you see reduction of water in 2020,  mining needs water, agriculture needs water and even hydropower needs water. Ano po ba ang uunahin natin sa paggamit sa ating tubig?” (What will be our first priority in using water?), Sering asked.

But she quickly answered her own question. “Hindi lang po natin pag-aaralan kung paano i-manage ang ating river basins kundi paano natin i-allocate itong resources na ito para hindi tayo mag-away-away at maging panibagong rason para magkagyera,” (Let us not just study about how to manage the river basins but also how to allocate water resources so that we will not fight and make this a new reason for war), the Secretary said.

She said Mindanawons need to protect their right to live peacefully and to live with sufficient water.

Talking about water is not that simple, said Sering. “When we talk about water, it means a lot of things. What we do now will really somehow define what will happen to us  in the future. What we will do now and how we will take care of it will also really define what will happen in the future. It could either be a source of conflict or a catalyst for unity,”  Sering explained.

Citing the climate change scenario of the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAG-ASA),  Sering said Mindanao and the entire country will experience reduction of rainfall around 2020.

Mindanao will experience a decrease in rainfall for at least six months from April to September “and when it rains, it will really, really pour so this is where we have to understand and determine how do we manage our waters.”

Sering also pointed to the need to have an economic model that is “unique to Mindanao.”

She took note of what Davao City Planning Officer Roberto Alabadao, representative of Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, said on the challenge of balance, “that if you do environment — somehow that was the impression that I got — it’s like anti-development. And maybe we should look at this economic model because we have to have an economic model that’s unique to Mindanao. We now need to review this brown economy. We now need to look at this green economy because we now need to understand if the current economic model is still fit.”

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) defines green economy as “a system of economic activities related to the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services that result in improved human wellbeing over the long term, while not exposing future generations to significant environmental risks and ecological scarcities.”
Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan, executive director of the World Wildlife Fund, also mentioned mining and agriculture in his presentation. He stressed the need to think about Mindanao’s priorities, given that government and the business sector have zeroed in on mining as an opportunity.

“To a great extent, the key environmental decision that Mindanao has to make today, revolves around the perceived potential of this non-renewable resource and the impacts of mining on the island’s dependence on natural resource, and its core business, i.e, agriculture.”

“Think about this carefully,” he said.

He ticked off statistics on Mindanao’s mineral wealth: an estimated 43% of the country’s chromite reserves, 56% of copper, 63% of nickel, 67% of bauxite and 75% of the country’s gold reserves.

Gold mining, Tan said, stands out as an activity of special concern as this mineral has “almost singlehandedly fueled the proliferation of less stringently regulated small scale and artisanal mining activity.”

But given that agriculture has its own set of requirements that remain unrealized, Tan said Mindanao has to decide “how best to sustain its core business and avoid a case of double jeopardy.”

“Unless it is the collective intention of Mindanao’s leaders to scale down agriculture as its primary economic driver, the difficult decisions on mining have to be made soon and cast in stone,” Tan said, adding that if the non-renewable wealth is withdrawn, “there must be some prior definition of how much of those earnings will constitute a net benefit to the people of Mindanao.”

In her opening remarks, Secretary Luwalhati Antonino, Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) chair,  narrated how Mindanao, the country’s food basket, “produces 40% of the total food requirements of the country”  but with the pace of forest degradation, is at risk of not being able to feed its population of 22 million.

Tan noted Mindanao is consistently a net exporting economy with export earnings, mostly from agri-based products at USD2.19 billion in 2009, that it has improved its product mix over the years and from 1995 to 2007, 71% of its total agricultural exports have been enhanced by added value.

This underscores that Mindanao’s competitiveness is “firmly anchored on the sustained viability of ecosystem services,” he said.

But Tan asked, “how much of this has returned to accelerate the internal velocity of money within Mindanao?”

Tan also aired a concern that needs to be addressed: that while wealth is being created in Mindanao and Mindanao has been a net contributor of savings to the rest of the Philippine economy, Mindanao’s deposits to the banking system “far exceed loans granted for Mindanao projects.”

“This indicates that the banking system effectively withdraws wealth out of the island’s economy. Rather than serving to boost its own ‘natural balance sheet,’ the ‘net income’ of Mindanao is being utilized elsewhere,” he said.

Sering said Mindanao continues to lag behind despite that fact it has the biggest contribution to the national economy.

The two-day Summit, whose theme is “Building Constituency, Managing River Basins, Achieving Green Economy,” is part of  the Mindanao Nurturing Our Waters (MindaNOW) program of  MinDA that is aimed at “creating champions, building constituency and adapting change in responding to the challenge of ensuring food on the table without compromising the carrying capacity of the environment by caring for our waters.”
The Summit is also timed for the June 5 celebration of World Environment Day. This year’s theme is “Green Economy: Does it include you?”  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)