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Dry Taps On The Strip?


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LAS VEGAS, NEVADA— Can you imagine the chaos that’d erupt if faucets dried up in the hundreds of bars and gambling casinos that line “The Strip”. This 6.8 kilometer stretch crams in 19 of the world’s largest hotels with 67,000 rooms. They jostle for headlines, blotting out Las Vegas divorce mills and suicides.

Less noticed is the city’s slow climb out from the last recession. . Unemployment crested at 14.7 percent, highest in the U.S., New York Times notes (It was 3.8 percent a decade ago) Construction is the other economic pillar of Nevada. That, too hasn’t recovered.

City leaders wager that gambling revenues will rise as the recession peters out. They look over their shoulders, meanwhile, at Macau. The former Portuguese colony overtook Las Vegas as the world’s No. 1 gambling market in 2006.

Macau hasn’t relinquished that lead since. In Macau casinos “there is no such thing as a free drink” either.

Las Vegans also apply that axiom to a water crunch Nine out of every 10 liters that they use to gargle, wash in or drink, is pumped from the Colorado River.–blistered by a severe drought last year. That’s an “all-bets-on-one- throw” game.

This eerily resembles Metro Cebu. Over 95 percent of water is siphoned from narrow limestone aquifers. That’s double what they can recharge. The “overdraft” sent water levels plummeting. Sea water contaminates irreversibly these underground reservoirs.

Is this a replay of how Los Angeles siphoned water away from Owens Valley in 1913? That turned a 100-square-mile lake into a desert.. Today, it lofts up clouds of cadmium and iron. Groundwater pumping lowered water table in parts of Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas by more than 100 ft., the U.S. Geological Survey warns.

As in major Philippine cities, population in Las Vegas has soared. The headcount here doubled since 1990. That surge comes mostly from migrants. Poker chips and slot jackpots are magnets.

In contrast, high birth rates declined slowly in Metro Manila, Iloilo or Davao. These interlocked with high numbers of those who swapped rural poverty for urban slum penury.

For both cities, to do nothing is a prescription for disaster. Southern Nevada Water Authority, therefore, proposed to build a 285-mile pipeline to haul groundwater from six valleys in eastern Nevada. That’d stave off dry taps in casinos and homes.

“The debate over a plan to pump water out of the Nevada desert could be the next battle in the war over the West’s most vital natural resource,” writes Alex Hutchinson. No similar debate has taken place in the Philippines — so far.

While mayor of Cebu, now-Rep Tomas Osmena chose to do precisely nothing. He derailed proposals to pipe in surface water from outlying towns. Thus, Cebu today is saddled with the country’s most critical emerging water crisis.”

“There is no such thing as a free drink.” Water will emerge as a major development issue sooner rather than later, stressed 2,500 experts at the 20th World Water Week in Stockholm late last year. “Sanitation and water are not just targets or sectors. They are the fundamental basis for life and indispensable to sustainable development”, their statement said.

Governments and UN”s High Level Plenary Meeting on the Millennium Development Goals must pay more attention to water and sanitation.

UN Environment Programme suggests: Look at how countries vary in their use of a common resource — rainwater.

Almost 86 percent of Singapore’s high-rise buildings collect rainwater. Roof water whittled down water bills for Singaporeans from S$1.17 per cubic meter down to S$0.96.

At Manila International Airport, rainwater sloshes down to the sea. In contrast, Chiangi Airport in Singapore impounds rainfall, from runways and green areas, into two reservoirs. Collected treated water accounts for 28 percent to 33 percent of total supplies at the airport. Savings: $ 390,000 yearly.

In Tokyo, the 8,400 square meters rooftop of Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo-wrestling Arena funnels rainwater into underground storage tanks. The example is catching on.

Thailand offers loans and technical help to build 1,000 to 3,000-liter jars. A family of six is assured sufficient rainwater during the dry season.

In Bangladesh, rainwater provides drinking water, specially in areas where arsenic contaminates wells. Over 1,000 rainwater harvesting systems have been installed.

Indonesia requires that all buildings install an infiltration well. The rule applies to Yogyakarta, West and Central Java. This could tamp the 53 percent water deficit down to 37 percent.

In Capiz here,, Canadian International Development Research Centre provided $200 loans, payable in three years, to build 500 rainwater storage tanks. Each tank is linked to an income-generating activity, like rearing pigs. This innovative mechanism whittled down water subsidies.

Whatever happened to the rainwater conservation project by 278 households in Barangay Villahermosa in Camotes Island? Local government and townspeople shared the cost of this pioneering program. Magsaysay awardee Antonio Opposa led Global Legal Action on Climate Change in asking the Supreme Court: issue a writ of mandamus that’d compel local governments to implement the Rainwater Collector and Springs Development Law.

Enacted in 1989, RA 6716 directed that 100,000 rainwater collectors were to be completed in three years. Only four were actually built.

By decisive action, PNoy’s administration can resurrect this program from mummified law. That would impact he lives of ordinary Filipinos. After all, “there is no such thing as a free drink.”

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