Thirsty Cities, Dying Rivers, Uncertain Futures: A Tale Too Often Told


Pacific Prospective features the research of graduate students.

Memo #286

By Brett Dimond – brett.dimond [at]

A central principle for the good governance of common-pool resources is to match allocation and provision rules. In other words, those who appropriate a resource must do so in a way that is viewed by those involved as legitimate. In the Philippines, the Constitution declares water to be the property of the State–thus ensuring all Filipinos are entitled to the benefits derived from the resource. Metro Manila–a mega-city of 12 million inhabitants–receives almost 97 percent of its domestic water supply from the Angat Reservoir, located in the province of Bulacan, which borders Metro Manila to the north. Water rights there are primarily divided among three national government agencies: 1) the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), responsible for water supply and sewerage services within Metro Manila; 2) the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), which oversees water delivery to the AMRIS irrigation system in Bulacan; and 3) the National Power Corporation (NPC), responsible for hydropower generation. Bulacan itself has no rights to the water stored within the reservoir.

Water within a river basin is connected, however, and might be viewed as a medium that transports both natural and human-induced externalities. The complex interactions involving water within modern societies result in many second and third-order effects. Given the majority of its population and economic activity lie downstream of the reservoir, Bulacan’s position makes it uniquely susceptible to such effects, as when a decrease in streamflow (first-order effect) from the dam negatively impacts water quality (second-order effect) by concentrating pollutants. While instream flow needs for the Angat River do receive a percentage of water allocated from the dam–and thus might be said to mitigate potential negative externalities downstream–its proportion is so small (2 m3/s out of a total 60 m3/s) as to be of little practical value.

The ecological sustainability of the basin is vitally dependent on the social dynamics both within and outside it. As demand for this scarce resource increases, so too will the likelihood of conflict. This places a premium on ensuring those who appropriate water upstream fairly compensate those downstream for its negative effects. The institutional mechanisms available to achieve this are not lacking, and attention should be given to exploring these possibilities.

Brett Dimond is a graduate student at the School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP), UBC. He is a member of the SSHRC-funded research project Collaborative Governance of Urbanizing Watersheds: Integrated Research, Institution, and Capacity-building for Sustainability and Climate-risk Adaptation in the Angat River Basin, Philippines.

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Bustos Dam and Angat Resevoir, Bulacan Philippines (credit: Ramon FVelasquez)

  • Urbanizing Watersheds: Collaborative Governance of the Angat River Basin in the Philippines. (Public website for SSHRC-funded research project Collaborative Governance of Urbanizing Watersheds)

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See our other memos on the Philippines and water.

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Posted in Asia, Philippines | Tagged bulacan, metro manila, water, water security | Leave a comment

The Rohingya, Ethnic Minorities, and Myanmar’s Enduring Dilemma

Memo #285

By Kazi Fahmida Farzana – fahmida [at]

Will Myanmar’s Political Transition be able to Solve the Lingering Nationality Question of its Ethnic Minorities?

Myanmar in recent years has been experiencing substantive political changes in its political system with implications for its domestic policies and international relations. Since its November 2010 national elections… Continue reading

Posted in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Southeast Asia | Tagged human rights, migrants, refugees | Leave a comment

Afghanistan Elections: Why Should We Care?

Memo #284

By Dur-e-Aden – dur-e-aden [at]

This week Afghans headed to the polls to help usher in a transfer of power from one democratic government to the next. While some observers hail this as a major achievement, others worry what lingering issues of rampant Taliban violence, ethnic politics, widespread corruption and fraud during the… Continue reading

Posted in Afghanistan | Tagged corruption, democratic reform, election, Elections, politics, security, Taliban, voting | Leave a comment

Of Sea Squirts and FTAs

Memo #283

By   Hyung-Gu Lynn – hyunggu.lynn [at]

Ten years ago today, April 1, 2004, the Chile-South Korea free trade agreement (FTA) came into effect. This landmark agreement marked Chile’s first FTA with an Asian country, and South Korea’s first FTA altogether. But what do sea squirts (Korean meonggye/Spanish piure) have to tell us about FTAs?… Continue reading

Posted in Asia, South Korea | Tagged Chile, FTA, trade | Leave a comment

Who Will Indonesia’s “Homeless” Voters Support?

Memo #282

By  Nathan Allen – n.allen [at]

Indonesian voters will face significantly fewer choices in the upcoming 2014 legislative election. Where 38 parties competed in 2009, only 12 will appear on the ballot in 2014. For 16% of the electorate, their preferred party in 2009 will no longer be an option. To put it in perspective… Continue reading

Posted in Asia, Indonesia | Tagged Elections, electoral reform, human rights, poverty | Leave a comment

Gaps in the Protection of Civilian Victims of Armed Violence

Memo #281

By Ramesh Thakur – ramesh.thakur [at]

As demonstrated by recent events in Sudan, Sri Lanka, Libya, and Syria—and earlier in Rwanda, the Balkans and East Timor during the 1990s—the numbers of civilians killed in contemporary armed conflicts is intolerably high. Their plight is a lasting stain on an internationalized human conscience. Our common humanity… Continue reading

Posted in Asia, Global | Tagged civilians, conflict, human rights, international organizations, natural disasters, peacekeeping, R2P, United Nations | Leave a comment

Japan’s Economy & Trade (A Video Interview with Watanabe Yorizumi)

Memo #280

Featuring Watanabe Yorizumi

Last month the Asia Pacific Memo sat down with Watanabe Yorizumi, since 2005 a member of the Faculty of Policy Management at the Graduate School of Media and Governance, Keio University. Professor Watanabe came to his academic career with a distinguished diplomatic background, having served several appointments in Japan’s foreign service, where he specialized in international trade policy. His diplomatic career saw significant engagement… Continue reading

Posted in Japan, Southeast Asia | Tagged abenomics, ASEAN, japanese economy, trade, WTO | Leave a comment

Rebuilding a Broken House: Healthcare Reform in China

Memo #279

By Jiong Tu – jt457 [at]

Since the 1980s, when China began to adopt market reforms, its health care system experienced a transition from fully state-run and financed care toward more privately financed and delivered health care. These changes led to soaring medical fees, minimal medical insurance coverage, and poor access to affordable medical… Continue reading

Posted in Asia, China | Tagged health policy, medical reform, public health | Leave a comment

Violent Disputes in the Chinese Medical Sector: the “Yinao” Phenomenon

Memo #278

By Jiong Tu – jt457 [at]

The medical sector in China has witnessed increasing disputes between doctors and patients over the past several years. According to a 2012 report, medical disputes in China had increased at the rate of 22.9 percent annually since 2002, and are now one of the country’s biggest social… Continue reading

Posted in Asia, China | Tagged Civil Society, medical disputes, medicine, policy-making, public health, yinao | Leave a comment

The Paradox of Women Leaders in Asian Democracies

Memo #277

By   Timothy S. Rich – [at]

Political life in Asian countries is often characterized as a man’s world, especially compared to its Western counterparts. Yet we have also seen increasing political leadership opportunities for women in the region. Since 2000 alone, women have been elected prime minister in Bangladesh and Thailand, and elected president… Continue reading

Posted in Asia, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, South Korea, Thailand | Tagged electoral reform, gender, women's rights | Leave a comment