Musings on Whatever: The Water Crisis

Our home back in Baguio is not connected to the city’s water supply network so we would always have water delivered. This naturally made my family very mindful of our water consumption. We collect rain water which is used to water plants, wash the laundry, and clean floors. A basin for dish washing and a bucket for bathing are always available to conserve water. Wastewater can be reused to flush the toilet.

So it does bother me sometimes when I see people who would just keep water running from the faucet or mindlessly waste water. Yes, water is a renewable natural resource but it can also be depleted. The earth is mostly covered in water but only 3% is freshwater. More than half of that is frozen in ice caps so we’re basically left with around 1% for our water needs.

A growing population entails an ever increasing demand for water. But rapid urban development, pollution, deforestation, and climate change are leading to water scarcity everywhere like Cape Town in South Africa; several cities in India; and even in Metro Manila in the Philippines.

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THE WATER LEVEL IN ANGAT DAM DIPS BELOW CRITICAL LEVEL! 
As of 6:00 AM today, the water level in Angat Dam, Metro Manila’s major water source already went down to 159.93 meters (below the 160-meter critical level). 
Without any significant rainfall (100 mm/24 hr) expected this week, the water level is expected to continue going down and might even reach its historical lowest level of 157.56 meters (July 2010). Credit: Earth Shaker

Clean drinking water is a human right. But what are we doing to uphold this right? It’s sad how we don’t put too much value on what nature offers. It’s practically free. But in return, we destroy the very thing we need for survival.

Post-apocalyptic scenarios come to mind – of dessert landscapes; of riots, and power play, and killings over water; of water everywhere but not a drop to drink…

Well, we could resort to drinking treated poo water, like what is being done in Namibia; or maybe consume desalinated water if we could afford the technology. But for now, what we can actually do is to conserve water, plant a tree or two, and keep water bodies clean. Is this too much to ask?

 

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The Ends is Nigh

UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report warns us that we may have only until 2030 to solve the issue of climate change. Basically, we have to limit warming to 1.5°C because the continuous increase in temperature has already given us a preview of what is to come – catastrophic typhoons and droughts, frequent flooding, deadly diseases, and these could get worse. Sounds like a Nostradamus prediction but it’s all real no matter how hard people like Trump deny it.

Would this actually prod politicians, capitalists, and corporations to do something? If all hell breaks loose, they’re safely tucked in their ivory towers counting money. How can they sleep at night? Makes you want to punch them in the face.

Photo from kleanindustries.com

For instance, worst plastic polluters like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestle make empty promises about reducing plastic waste which we’re practically eating already (Yep, microplastics were found in human poop!) There’s Monsanto controlling food production and promoting Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). The issue of GMOs is debatable but if you ask me, without comprehensive studies on the long-terms effects of consuming GMOs, I wouldn’t choose to eat them.

In the Philippines, a developing country subscribing to the ideals of developed nations, urbanization is on a rush. Mountains are flattened and trees are cut to make way for concrete roads, and malls, and condos, and fastfood restos (making us all dangerously fat).

The state of the environment is never a priority. We have this idea that we have the right to trash this planet (case in point, overtourism of Boracay leading to its closure). Eventually, we sadly face the consequences of our actions and they can turn out to be deadly. Lives were lost in the landslide in Itogon, Benguet and Naga, Cebu. And this is not something new. But corrupt government officials who don’t give a damn don’t do anything about it.

I read about narcotization in Chuck Palahniuk’s novel, “Stranger than Fiction.” When a problem looks too big, when we’re shown too much reality, we tend to shut down. Are we shown too much of environmental decay that we have decided not to take any action? Why is it all bad news that we are made to see anyway? Someone said because good news can take care of itself, which makes a lot of sense.

Speaking of good news, the ozone layer is healing! So we do have the capacity to turn things around. Maybe we can address climate change and plastic pollution and it won’t be the end after all. I hope.

 

SenseCampPH and Sustainable Travel

It is unfortunate that the only way to escape from our stressful busy lives and to re-connect with nature is when we visit places like Mount Purro Nature Reserve. Yet it’s a shame how a lot of tourists are obsessed over the Instagrammability of a destination. No wonder we face issues like overtourism, pollution, and commodification of culture.

There should be a better or more sustainable way for tourism. This very theme was tackled during the SenseCamp 2018 organized by MakeSense, which is a two-day event that included discussions on various facets of sustainable tourism, different workshops, advocacy and awareness building, and opportunities for networking (Read about last year’s SenseCamp here).

In the said event, Alo Lantin who loves telling stories through photographs, reminded participants to travel beyond social media – to genuinely wonder, to be authentic, and not to fake experiences. Alo’s message is also perfectly captured in his favorite quote from the movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: “To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”

Melody Melo-Rijk from WWF-Philippines also talked about their project, “The Sustainable Diner: A Key Ingredient of Sustainable Tourism.” As discussed, one can be a sustainable diner by eating local, trying plant-based dishes, using reusable utensils, and not wasting food, among others.

TJ Malvar, who helps manage the camp’s venue, Mount Purro, said that their goal is to be a truly sustainable travel destination. He admits that there’s a lot of work to do but the key is balance of the triple bottom line – profit, people, and planet.

We normally think that when we take care of the environment, we are saving the planet. But in reality, we are doing so to save ourselves. When we travel, when we see the world, may we appreciate it and make an effort to protect it so the future may also have the opportunity to see and experience these places.

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The SenseCamp Participants (Photo by George Buid)

 

 

IFOAM-Asia Organic Youth Forum: Our Journey through Mindanao

Mindanao is tainted with a not so ideal reputation due to incidences of war and terrorism. A travel ban in the region is also in effect for foreigners. But this did not stop me together with 20 other advocates of the organic movement to travel around Mindanao and learn how organic agriculture is practiced there.

We represented our respective countries namely China, Taiwan, India, South Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Bhutan, Indonesia, Philippines, Argentina, and the UK to the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM)-Asia Organic Youth Forum which is part of the 3rd Organic Asia Congress.

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The pre-forum activities included field trips where we got to see firsthand the efforts being done by individuals, organizations, and local government units (LGU) in promoting the organic movement. One impressive initiative is the “From Arms to Farms” project of Mayor Rommel C. Arnado which transformed the Municipality of Kauswagan from a depressed ghost town and war zone to what it is now, a barometer of peace. A Bogota Peace Prize and Galing Pook awardee, the project trains rebel returnees to become organic farmers which Mayor Arnado believes addresses hunger, poverty, and the issue of land grabbing considered as the root causes of violence in the area.

Another simple yet impactful project is the setting up of a farmer’s market in Cagayan de Oro led by Governor Bamby Emano of the Province of Misamis Oriental. Farmers can sell their naturally grown produce every Friday at the market without paying any fee. The LGU also provides transportation support.

The farms and the organic practitioners we met were likewise very inspiring. Alomah’s Nature Farm in Dahilayan, Bukidnon managed by the couple Benjohn and Grace Mahistrado showcases beautifully landscaped vegetable gardens. They have mastered diversifying and value-adding as they sell vegetable salad, vinaigrette dressing, and herb tea on top of turning their farm into a learning site and a tourist destination.

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A visit to the biodynamic family farm of Vic Tagupa located at Dumarait, Balingasag gave us a glimpse of a philosophical and spiritual approach to organic farming. Considered as a model of a climate-resilient farm, the 1.44-hectare land is surrounded by a perimeter buffer dike planted with nitrogen-fixing trees, banana, and fruit trees which serve as defense against flooding and contamination from synthetic fertilizers being applied in nearby farms.

In the Municipality of Talisayan, Maristella Rallos wants to make farming sexy. Her passion towards nature motivated her to start organic farming which in two years’ time has turned the bare land into what she calls now as VS Project, a space where she gets to try out good practices in farming.

School gardens in Bislig City was a delight to see especially knowing how children are exposed to organic agriculture at an early age. Interestingly, a lot of the youth from the cities and municipalities we’ve been to are motivated to practice farming the organic way.

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During the forum proper, we learned about best practices and experiences of young farmers, advocates, and organic pioneers. We also had the chance to interact with the local youth of Bislig.

The whole experience has been wonderful. I gained so much insights and is encouraged by all the brilliant stories and sharing. All I have is gratitude for the heartwarming hospitality of the LGUs, the hard work demonstrated by the organizers, and the friendship gained from like-minded people.

Cheers to a bright future for the organic movement in the country and in Asia!

Negros, beyond the City of Smiles

Bacolod, known as the “City of Smiles” is the capital of Negros Occidental. Tourists would normally go on a food trip as part of their itinerary to sample the namit (delicious in Ilonggo) dishes the place offers.

You can have dinner at Aboy’s Restaurant, a turo-turo style resto famous for their grilled seafood; have chicken inasal at Chicken House for lunch; and have desert at Calea Pastries and Coffee.

“The Ruins” tagged as “Taj Mahal of Negros” is a must-see tourist spot in Talisay. You can sip your coffee while gazing at the lit structure providing a mesmerizing view at night. Don’t forget to take the obligatory table top reflected shot of this once great mansion, burned down during the World War II (to prevent the Japanese from using it), the fate of a lot of the mansions all over Negros.

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Just 30 minutes away from Bacolod is Victorias City where you can find Peñalosa Farm. At the farm, you can learn about organic farming and eat organic meat and vegetables.

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Travel back to the past as you visit Hacienda Santa Rosalia, a sugar plantation located in Manapla owned by the Gaston family. Built in the 1930s, the Gaston Mansion survived the forces of war and nature. The Chapel of the Cartwheels is situated near the ancestral home. This non-traditional church is made from cartwheels, plows, mortar and pestle, and broken pieces of glass. The church aims to make the Catholic faith more local and more accessible. The Hacienda Crafts Factory is also in the area, where world-class craft and woven products are made, providing livelihood for the locals.

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Bacolod is the usual travel destination in Negros but explore the rest of the island and you’ll be happy to see that there is more beyond the City of Smiles.

 

 

January in Photos

Challenged myself to take at least one photo each day. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. There would be days where I was uninspired or there was just nothing to take a photo of. But what I liked about this self-imposed challenge is I became more observant and I started looking at things around me with fresh eyes.

Here’s my random line-up. 1. New Year fireworks 2. expanse of rice field 3. office table 4. a man in the dark 5. plate of Pad Thai 6. line of motorcycles 7. a looking-away selfie 8. an old couple holding hands 9. Makati buildings 10. colleagues 11. view from the side mirror 12. grapes 13. Greenpeace wall 14. protest art 15. signage 16. an empty park 17. vintage windows and ceiling 18. elevator ceiling lights 19. foliage 20. the sky through a wired fence 21. early morning view from my window 22. Philippine map 23. BGC street art 24. fluorescent lamp 25. brainstorming notes 26. traffic 27. leaves bathed in the rain 28. billboard 29. pedestrians waiting 30. wall art 31. the night sky and a dot of moon

 

No Straw! No Straw!

It’s silly but I actually dreamt about this. I requested that my drink be served without a straw. My drink arrived with a freakin’ plastic straw! I wake up and the same thing happens in my waking world. Geez, just remove the straw then, what’s the big deal? Well, we’re unnecessarily creating waste which could have been avoided at the very beginning. It’s recycled anyway? Only 10% of plastic produced globally is recyled. Most of it is trashed and ends up in the ocean forming the Great Pacific garbage patch, a collection of marine debris mostly plastic. We create biodegradable plastics but they don’t readily decompose and some become tiny bits also known as microplastics.

January is the Zero Waste Month in the Philippines and I wish we could channel even a little of Lauren Singer’s effort in striving for a zero waste lifestyle. Or maybe we should start segregating our wastes into 34 categories like the town of Kamikatsu in Japan. But really, segregating wastes into biodegradable and non-biodegradable could already make a difference.  Garbage dumped in landfills can significantly be reduced if the biodegradables are composted.

We used to have just one garbage bin in the office. I felt bad whenever I see the garbage all mixed up. After work, when I leave the building, I see these piles of garbage bags and these men sorting through the waste, probably looking for recyclables they could salvage and sell. Again, segregating wastes into biodegradable and non-biodegradable would make life easier for them. So that’s what I proposed and I’m glad people in the office obliged. I didn’t want to impose too much.

Waste segregation is very basic but you would be surprised how it can get complicated. We don’t exactly have a proper system for waste management. We have the policy in place but lack the political will to fully implement it. And there are much more important things to think about. Heck, environmental issues should be prioritized and addressed but that’s just me.

In a developing country like the Philippines, where poverty is still pretty much part of life, how can you ask people to avoid single use sachet contributing to plastic pollution when that’s what they can afford. Same with patronizing organic food or sustainable and environment-friendly products, which are relatively more expensive. My friends and I were talking about this one time, relating it to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. If people can barely satisfy their basic needs, you can’t expect them to care for the plight of the environment. On the other hand, why do smart, caring people ignore environmental issues? Why can’t those who can take action?

At the beginning of this year, I wrote “Note to Self” to remind myself to breathe and let go. But as an environmentalist, sometimes I can’t help feeling frustrated. The more you know, the more you care, the more you suffer. You’re labeled anti-development. Or they think you’re just exaggerating or over reacting. Add to that the fact that environmental defenders are being killed! Why did I decide to be an environmentalist, haha!

Because as Helen Keller puts it, “I am only one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.” I guess, that’s one thing I can do. Raise awareness through my writing, through the environmental initiatives I participate in, through my lifestyle.

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Photo by Jason Quema

It’s funny how my friends remark, “Ryan will get angry” when I see them using single-use plastic. At least they’re more aware, I suppose. And maybe one of these days, they would also say, “No straw, please.”