Unconventional Solution to Water Scarcity in the Small Islands

Water scarcity in the small islands is a paramount problem that recurs yearly. Climate change appears to make this worse as rains no longer provide enough to replenish groundwater sources. Is there a technological solution to this problem? This article explores the issue in the light of personal experience.

One of the pressing issues of today’s modern world is the depletion of natural freshwater sources. This problem is especially true in small islands where people settled and gradually depleted the water reserves as the island’s population increases due to both in-migration and natural reproduction.

Water scarcity occurs when the carrying capacity, that is when water consumption exceeds the island’s capacity to replenish its store of water. Unless people living in the islands are well aware of this possibility, exceeding the island’s capacity to regenerate its freshwater sources is the eminent, expected result of too many people living in the island.

Solution to Water Scarcity in the Small Islands

A few days ago, this issue has come into play as I was one of those requested by a local government institution tasked to ensure sustainable development in the province. Together with stakeholders from island municipalities, we discussed the environmental concerns of people living in the islands. I was part of the sociocultural sector group that deliberated threats to resource sustainability in the islands.

One of the major concerns of the island communities is the lack of water particularly on those days when rains that replenish the groundwater sources are not available. Some of the people have adapted to this condition by designing structures to catch rain water and store these for use during the dry months.

alone in the island
Beneath the small island is a rich diversity of marine life, human artifacts, among others.

This approach seems to go well, but people complaining about water scarcity means that the issue still bogs them. For those who cannot afford to build large structures to keep them sufficiently supplied with freshwater, this is a real problem; except on those cases where an enterprising member of the population undertakes an unconventional solution that trickle down to the public. I describe this simple but working solution below.

Piped Fresh Water from Abundant Water Sources

Several months back, while searching for a place where our research team can take a bath in Bulawit, one of several islands in northern Palawan, I met an ice-manufacturing businessman. He has a considerable stock of freshwater in large tanks in his house despite the difficulty that other communities in the other islands experience.

We inquired a little about this maverick in the midst of freshwater scarcity, and we discovered that he figured out a simple solution to the perennial freshwater problem many people in the community encountered.

woman fills up container
A woman fills up a container with freshwater in Bulawit or New Colaylayan.

With an air of confidence, he explained to us that a few years back, he looked for a good source of freshwater in the adjoining islands and laid down PVC pipes underwater from that place to his house funding everything by himself!

He made a good business out of it. He supplied the freshwater needs of other people in the community for a small fee. He converted a problem into an opportunity. No wonder he’s the richest man in the island.

Is the Businessman’s Solution a Sustainable One?

If the businessman continues to run his water business for some time, chances are, the source of freshwater will get depleted as more people avail of piped water he draws out from the other island assuming natural increase in island population through time. However, if better technology becomes available before the water carrying capacity of the island is exceeded, such as the discovery of a low-cost desalination system or efficient water recycling system, freshwater availability should not be a problem.

Alternatively, natural, long-term remedies such as reforestation or watershed enhancement will help slow down water runoff and help increase the groundwater storage. Without these measures in place, situations such as that in Nangalao Island, will continue to persist.

If all else fails, the only long-term solution is for the people to leave the small islands and live in large islands or continents where freshwater abound.

© 2014 September 6 P. A. Regoniel

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