06 May 2016

Water pollution and illness in the Philippines

Kelly writes:*

Water pollution has become a rising concern for todays world, especially with rapid increases in population, urbanization and industrialization. Thus, methods to control this situation must be set in place, however, this is rather difficult as oceans and large bodies of water are not owned by an individual entity; making it hard to control and manage the amount of pollution released.

Pollution comes in the forms of raw sewage, detergents, fertilizer, heavy metals, chemical products, oils and solid wastes, hereby resulting in 22.2 million metric tons of organic pollution annually, thus the country urgently needs methods to control the pollution. Especially considering the fact that 50 out of the 421 rivers are considered biologically dead, in addition to only 47% of the 127 freshwater rivers contain good water quality.

Due to the lack of freshwater and the majority of bodies of water being infected, causing an outbreak in many disease-causing bacteria and viruses resulting in health outbreaks and increase in death rates, including economic costs of P67 (€1.25) billion for health, fisheries production and tourism. Some of the known diseases caused by poor water include gastro-enteritis, diarrhea, typhoid, cholera, dysentery, hepatitis, and severe acute respiratory syndrome. Whereby one of the reasons may be due to the fact that only 6 out of 115 Philippine cities have sewerage systems. However, the awareness of the situation is still low, which is reflected in low willingness-to-pay for connection to a sewerage system.

Thus, although the Philippines has several laws regarding water pollution, including the Clean Water Act implemented in 2004, the lack of enforcement is of great concern, in addition to problems such as inadequate resources, poor database, and weak cooperation among different agencies and Local Government Units.

Bottom Line The Philippines needs to increase the awareness regarding the improvement of sanitation and water pollution to reduce illnesses caused by water-born sources, and act upon implementing these solutions (such as expanding sewerage collection and treatment) since 31% of illnesses are caused by water born diseases.

* Please comment on these posts from my environmental economics students, to help them with unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data, etc.


  1. This example of water pollution in the Philippines clearly illustrates what can happen if people don’t know about their negative effects on the environment. Although, I believe that it is necessary to increase the awareness, as the blog posts suggests, I think such approach will only be effective in the long term. Of course, it is necessary to ensure that people will be eventually aware of the implications caused by the environmental damage, however, such environmental issue needs to be addressed now, otherwise the environment will become more devastated and more people will suffer from the consequences.

    I think the long term approach (increasing awareness through education) will have to go hand in hand with the short term approach. One of the quick solutions to this issue could be enforced through government involvement. If the government impose tax on the main producers of the pollution, it should cause an increase in the cost of production and thus shrink supply, which should eventually decrease the size of the negative externality (it is assumed that the negative externality is mainly from production). There are of course problems (such as loss of profit, possibility of corruption etc.) with such solution. Nevertheless, it seems as the only quick solution. In order to change the outcome, it is necessary to change the formal institutions (change the law – impose a tax), which will eventually help to change the informal institutions (the norms and codes of behavior of people).

    The money collected from the tax could be either used for the enforcement of new rules or for the programs that would help to ensure the increase in the awareness of such pollution issue (educational programs). Lastly, I think it is necessary to point out that event though ocean or any river system can’t be privatized, I believe that there could be set up a committee or some group of people who would be responsible for it. Otherwise nobody will care and the same problem will arise again. The committee could be elected and could represent the different interests of different people in the society in relation to the water system in Philippines.

  2. Anniek Barnhoorn12 May, 2016 22:08

    Hi Kelly!
    I agree with you that it is important to set such methods in place, but that it remains difficult to control and manage common pool resources like this one. In CPRM in block 1 we also saw that even when we take a small CPR dilemma it is difficult to maintain a management strategy when there is no enforcement (or when it is no longer enforced).
    As Marketa pointed out, yes, this solution will indeed take time to be completely overcome. However, despite this, I do think that it is feasible to overcome this pollution (maybe not fully, but at least to a great extent) and that changes can already be seen in the not all too long run. I believe this because if this is tackled from the source, works hand in hand with a shift in behaviour, and the government works on enforcement, change can be visible within the short run also.
    Awareness of this kind can also result in a multiplier effect (as i also pointed out in my webpost). This effect can spread awareness about such issues to a great audience, thus shifting demand for control and management strategies outwards (perhaps even to other projects in the Philippines).
    Thus, through the solutions you propose and with what i added here, I do think that the current pollution can be at least reduced significantly. However, despite this, we must not forget the opportunity cost and political feasibility that tend to stand in the way.


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