By AMIANAN SALAKNIBAN
Do you know that by 2030, the planet’s water supply will experience a 40% shortfall? According to United Nation’s world water development report, if the world does not dramatically change its poor water supply management, by 2050, the demand for water will skyrocket up to 55%. As the world celebrated Water Day last March 22, it makes us stop and think of the situation of our own water resources.
Northern Luzon is the home of 10 watersheds in the Cordillera Mountains, Sierra Madre and Caraballo mountains. Significant portions of Regions 1, 2 and 3 derive their water supply from these sources to use for agricultural, domestic, power generation and industrial needs.
NL ‘lifeblood in the red’
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) had expressed that the Northern Luzon ‘lifeblood’ or watersheds is ‘in the red’. In the Cordillera alone, 1,700 hectares of watershed is destroyed every year due to acts of nature and human activities which causes food and energy shortage, drinking water contamination, flooding in lowlands, pollution and landslides.
Their recent studies also proved that only 37% of the region’s total land area remains covered with forest. Because of this, the major rivers in the region –Chico, Agno, Magat and Abra rivers- are drying up. The watershed reserves in the old growth forest of Sierra Madre are also being threatened by massive illegal logging, swidden farming and forest clearings.
DENR has attributed this degradation to improper or abusive land use practices in upland farming, kaingin, uncontrolled logging and over grazing. Although much of this is true, in news and researches available in the internet, rarely does the agency mention large scale mining companies as perpetrators of massive forest clearing and contamination of our water systems. How come?
Keeping a blind eye?
If we look back in history, logging for wood and timber became rampant with the increase of mining companies after the war. Mountains, along with its flora and fauna were flattened and forests were cleared to pave way for open pit mining.
In the Cordillera, lands, villages, and even a school in Mankayan, Benguet sunk due to underground mine blasting. Head waters of major rivers were polluted due to mine tailings.
In 2012, Philex Mining Company -the government’s bastion of ‘responsible mining’ – caused the biggest mine disaster in history as it spilled 20 million metric tons of toxic sediments into the water channels of Itogon. DENR slapped a 1 billion fine for the damages but Philex haggled the deal into a ‘clean-up’ option only as the leak was caused by the ‘act of god’.
However, an independent fact-finding mission conducted by the church and environmental organizations have found out that the tailings dam’s lifespan already expired since 2010 so it shouldn’t have been operating in the first place, a fact proving the mining company’s negligence. In the end, DENR subdued to Philex’s bargain and continued business as usual few months after.
Mining pollutes watersheds
Nueva Vizcaya, Cagayan Valley’s Watershed Haven, was also not spared from the environmental pollution, resource depletion and destruction brought about by mining. Although the DENR has officially declared it as a no-mining zone, environmental groups questioned the decree because it did not cover the existing gold and copper mining operations of FCF Minerals in Runruno, Quirino and OceanaGold in Didipio, Kasibu.
According to the result of Environmental Investigative Mission (EIM) conducted by Kalikasan PNE and Agham in 2014, both foreign companies clearly polluted the various freshwater ecosystems causing biodiversity loss within the mining area as well as the ecosystem surrounding it.
Using scientific methods, high levels of copper, a toxic metal substance had been found from water samples and sediments in the rivers adjacent to the mining sites. Living organisms in the contaminated rivers were also found to be fewer than those living in the nearby unaffected rivers. This greatly impacts the people’s potable water supply, farm irrigation and community sanitation.
Water over gold
Is gold more precious than water that is our life? We can live without gold but we will die without water. DENR obviously needs to take this into perspective as the ‘defender of environment and natural resources’ that supposedly aims to ensure sustainability for the people.
Our watersheds should be protected and be free from large-scale mining operations. The agency should hold the existing mining companies accountable for causing massive pollution to our water systems and enforce them to compensate for their evident negligence. Until then, it can live up to its promise that “mining shall be pro-people and pro-environment in sustaining wealth creation and improved quality of life.” # nordis.net