Some 1,000 scientific experts and river managers from all over the Philippines and other countries have converged in Iloilo City May 30-June 1 to look closer and dig deeper at reviving dying rivers across the globe.

This is the goal of the first ever Philippine International River Summit which serves as platform for development planners and key leaders to discuss effective management of rivers and river basins worldwide.

Local chief executives from areas around the country’s important river basins along with river management, aquatic biodiversity, and global climate change experts from countries such as the U.S., Canada, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam are participating in the forum.

“We should take good care of our rivers. It has given our ancestors life, it is giving us life, it will give life to our children, and our children’s children. We are blessed to have the abundance of rivers. All we have to do is to rehabilitate, preserve and protect it,” stressed Mayor Jed Patrick E. Mabilog. 

Themed “My River, My Life,” the summit highlights the importance of rivers in sustaining human life by serving as transportation waterways and as source of water for industrial and domestic use, irrigation, and hydropower generation.

“The gathering was not to pay tribute to rivers but to explore ways of restoring them to life and productive health,” said Ramon J.P. Paje, secretary of Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

“In many places around the world, rivers act as convenient dumping grounds for wastes. Many of these, once teeming with aquatic life, are now either biologically dead or dying,” he noted.

“We all need to accept our responsibilities as stewards over rivers not only as waterways or water sources but also as habitats and ecosystems and be willing to undertake the laborious and continuing task of reviving and maintaining them,” encouraged Paje.

The summit serves as perfect venue for leading experts, scientists, policy makers, river administrators and practitioners to identify opportunities, problems and best practices towards effectively managing rivers across four vital issues: governance; biodiversity conservation and management; climate change and disaster risk reduction management; and water quality.

It also highlights the country’s efforts in managing its rivers and in implementing the Clean Water Act including the designation of seven water quality management areas; adoption of 160 water bodies by 260 partners in DENR’s “Adopt an Estero/Waterway” program; and implementation of National Greening Program in part to restore and rehabilitate the country’s watersheds and mangroves.

DENR plans to institute the summit as an annual global forum that would sustain Philippine efforts to connect and link to other countries and organizations in coming up with solutions to river management problems.

The big event serves as a place for information exchange, dialogue, networking, and sharing of good practices, said Jesse M. Robredo, secretary of Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).

The conference brings together local governments, river councils, foundations, national authorities and the private sector to tackle important issues in managing river basins like pollution, flooding, human impact, and governance, he said.

The Philippine river basins “should theoretically be enough to sustain the country’s economic development and ecological needs at any given time – yet stress imposed by population growth resulting in increased economic activity and pollution could mean danger of scarcity of water supply.”

Problems facing river management include water pollution due to improper waste disposal and sedimentation from indiscriminate land development; over-extraction of water resources; flooding in low-lying areas due to high incidence of river swelling and inundation; conflicting mandates of water-related agencies; absence of integrated river basin plans and updated information; and weak law enforcement resulting in unabated proliferation of structures along river easements.