Remarks by Dr. Susan Brems, Mission Director, WaterLinks Forum 2016

Thursday, October 6, 2016

[As Prepared]


I am very pleased to be part of this gathering of policymakers, thought leaders and stakeholders who have come together to address a timely and critical topic: resilience of the water and sanitation sectors to climate change.

USAID has had a long history of partnership with the Philippine government to extend access to water supply and sanitation.

Between 2010 and 2016, USAID, in partnership with the Philippine government, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector, invested $26 million in assistance that resulted in 1.5 million more Filipinos having access to clean drinking water. I think that shows management for results.

While the Philippines continues to make significant gains in improving access to water, climate change increasingly threatens these gains. The Philippines is already one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, and typhoons are only projected to become stronger with climate change, along with sea-level rise and increased flooding.

Droughts are also projected to intensify with climate change.

I think the recent El Niño phenomenon highlighted these challenges. We recognize that the impacts of these climate risks need to be addressed in our development programs. That concern is reflected in President Barack Obama’s Executive Order on Climate-Resilient International Development. Signed in September 2014, the Executive Order requires the integration of considerations of climate resilience into all the international development work of the United States.

Indeed, the United States has made climate change and resilience to it a subject of national security. Just last week the National Intelligence Council of the U.S. released a report entitled “Implication for U.S. National Security of Anticipated Climate Change. It identifies coastal areas, water-stressed regions, and ever-growing cities as the most climate-vulnerable locations. And it assesses that security risks will arise primarily from distinct extreme weather events and from the exacerbation of currently strained conditions, like water shortages.

In the Philippines, USAID has brought together these two priorities – access to water supply access and climate resilience. As we have worked to extend access to safe water and improved sanitation we have searched out the nexus between those important objectives and our quest to foster resilience in communities.

More specifically, USAID is working with six local governments – in Iloilo, Cagayan de Oro, Leyte, Zamboanga, Cotabato and Basilan – in addition to partnering with key national government agencies like the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Department of Interior and Local Government. Over the past three years, we have gained insights into how climate change directly affects the broad spectrum of water security – notably, sourcing of water, infrastructure, service provision, and demand or consumption of water.

In Leyte, where we helped restore access to water after the devastation of Typhoon Yolanda, USAID went beyond repairing and rehabilitating damaged water supply systems. Following the “build back better” principle, we constructed water supply systems that can withstand typhoon winds as strong as 315 kilometers per hour, similar to those of Typhoon Yolanda. We reconnected pipes in such a way that they are better protected from future flooding and landslides. As a result, almost 200,000 people gained access to clean drinking water, and we expect an additional 158,000 people to gain that access by the end of the project in July 2017.

At the height of the recent El Niño phenomenon, USAID looked for ways to address severe water shortages brought about by drought that swept throughout the Philippines. This became an opportunity for us to introduce water demand management for the first time in the Philippines. Applied in many countries that are experiencing years of drought, this strategy maximizes water that is available. What began only as an information-sharing activity has now gained wide interest from various stakeholders and has turned into tangible programs. Our partners, the Department of Public Works and Highways, and the local government units of Zamboanga City and Iloilo Province, have been some of the leaders in this initiative.

In these times, when water resources are becoming increasingly scarce because of climate change, the role of sanitation has also become even more important. USAID supports septage and sewerage management programs in our partner cities for two reasons. First, they extend access to better sanitation services. Second, these programs also protect clean water resources from contamination. This ultimately makes more water available for drinking.

I am pleased to share that through USAID’s assistance, the cities of Isabela in Basilan, Cotabato in Maguindanao, Ormoc in Leyte and Cagayan de Oro in Misamis Oriental have passed septage ordinances and are at various stage of carrying out their respective septage programs. They are now among the few cities in the Philippines, out of 145, that are pioneering septage management. To date, our work with our partner local governments has translated into more than 357,000 people gaining access to improved sanitation facilities.

Through a partnership facilitated by WaterLinks, our partner water districts are learning to integrate climate resilience in their work. They have been mentored by the Florida Water and Climate Alliance and the Seattle Public Utilities. Climate projections, downscaled to finer resolution, and water resource vulnerability assessments are finding their way into the water districts’ business and emergency plans. These measures help water districts prepare for future disasters and continue operating during and in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. Water districts are learning how to forecast water demand better and to implement more targeted conservation programs. Such measures can lead to huge water savings that can mean more access to water for underserved populations.

I would like to thank WaterLinks for the water operators’ partnerships they helped us build and for the opportunity to share the positive outcomes of these partnerships in this forum. I also wish to acknowledge the tremendous hard work of our implementing partner in Be Secure. We are breaking new ground in integrating climate resilience in the water and sanitation sectors. I look forward to these project initiatives being sustained by and shared more widely among water districts through the community of practice we are establishing.

I also thank the Philippine government, through the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Department of Interior and Local Government, for our continuing partnership to address the country’s water security challenges.

Water is and will always be an important natural resource and a vital input to economic growth. Under USAID’s Water and Development Strategy, we work to meet the goal of saving lives and advancing development through improvements in water supply, sanitation and hygiene, and through sound management and use of water for food security.

In the Philippines, water security and climate resilience will remain as strategic priorities under our Cities Development Initiative, through which USAID supports partner cities outside Metro Manila to fulfill their potential as engines of inclusive economic growth.

The U.S. Government is committed to assisting the Philippines in working toward its goal of universal access to water, which contributes to attaining the Sustainable Development Goals on water and sanitation.

Our partnerships with the Government of the Philippines, local governments, the private sector, and other important stakeholders will continue to remain strong as we work together toward our mutual goal of inclusive, sustainable growth.

Thank you and I wish you all a productive forum.

Maraming salamat po.

Issuing Country