The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is leading a week-long effort to raise awareness on the importance of maintaining reliable and effective treatment of wastewater, which has the potential to be an incredibly valuable resource.

The DENR, together with the River Basin Coordinating Office, the National Water Resources Board, and the Ayala-led Manila Water Company Inc., has lined up a series of activities to celebrate the Philippine Water Week and the international observance of World Water Day (WWD) on March 22.

As a kickoff to WWD, a photo exhibit highlighting the importance of both water and wastewater was opened on Wednesday (March 15) at the Market! Market! Shopping Mall in Taguig City. The exhibit is open to the public until Friday, March 17.

The photo exhibit showcases vivid images depicting the negative ecological and health impacts of untreated wastewater, as well as the various efforts of government and the private sector to address the problem, consistent with the WWD 2017 theme: “Water and Wastewater.”

This year’s theme aims to highlight the symbiosis between water and wastewater in the quest for sustainable development, according to DENR Assistant Secretary for Staff Bureaus Nonita Caguioa.

Caguioa, who led the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the photo exhibit, said that wastewater is a valuable resource in the circular economy and its safe management could be an efficient investment in the health of humans and ecosystems.

“Treated wastewater can act as a drought-resistant source of water especially for agriculture and industry, source of nutrients for agriculture, soil conditioner and source of energy or heat,” Caguioa said.

She added: “In effect, wastewater management is a key to poverty reduction for it sustains ecosystems services. It improves food security, health and ultimately the economy.”

If untreated, however, Caguioa said wastewater can cause environmental damage and serious health problems.

Wastewater contains a number of pollutants and contaminants such that when discharged to freshwater bodies and marine waters without being treated, can cause water pollution that is harmful to aquatic life.

When discharged on lands, wastewater can leach into underground water tables and potentially contaminate aquifers and underground water.

Wastewater is also a big health issue as it carries and transports a myriad of diseases and illnesses.

According to the World Health Organization, about 2.2 million people die each year worldwide from water-related diseases, mostly children in developing countries.

WWD is an international event designated by the United Nations General Assembly. It is held annually on March 22 to focus attention on the importance of freshwater and to promote the sustainable management of freshwater resources.

The first WWD was held on March 22, 1993. Every year, the celebration highlights a specific aspect of freshwater or corresponds to a current or future challenge.

In the Philippines, the celebration lasts for at least one week by virtue of Executive Order No. 258 issued in 1996, adopting the Philippine Water Week.

Other activities lined up the week-long celebration include a tree-planting activity and symposium in Davao Oriental province; inter-school mural painting, photo journalism, feature writing and digital story telling contests in Leyte province; tour of the Sta. Cruz wastewater treatment facility in Laguna, and lake tour in the Pagsanjan side; and simultaneous river clean-ups nationwide.

This Saturday, March 18, an activity called “Kilos-kilos para sa Tubig” will be held at the Quezon Memorial Circle Liwasang Aurora, to be highlighted by a Sungka Tournament and other outdoor games. Cash prizes await winners of the Sungka competition.

On D-day, March 22, World Water Day awards shall be given out to recognize water champions to highlight the culminating activity of the week-long celebration to be held at the Quezon City Sports Club. ###