By DR. BERNARDO M. VILLEGAS
Pope Francis considers that one particularly serious problem related to sustainable development is the quality of water available to the poor. As he wrote in Laudato Si: “Every day, unsafe water produces many deaths and the spread of water-related diseases, including those caused by microorganisms and chemical substances. Dysentery and cholera, linked to inadequate hygiene and water supplies, are a significant cause of suffering and of infant mortality. Underground water sources in many places are threatened by pollution produced in certain mining, farming, and industrial activities, especially in countries lacking adequate regulation or controls. It is not only a question of industrial waste. Detergents and chemical products, commonly used in many places of the world, continue to pour into our rivers, lakes, and seas.”
Fortunately, some young Filipino entrepreneurs have used their creativity and leadership to address this problem. Take, for example, Carlo Delantar who is country director of Waves for Water. Carlo volunteered to help an international non-profit organization, Waves for Water, with relief efforts in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan (locally called Yolanda) in 2013. There he saw the potential for the W4W model to benefit water-insecure communities in the Philippines over the long term. He became the W4W’s country director in the Philippines. With only a small team, Delantar enlists the help of travelers to the country to distribute water filtration systems to poor households. So far, they have handed out some 10,000 water filters, helping one million underprivileged Filipinos to access water.
A related initiative is that of a Philippines-born renowned surfboard shaper and photographer, Ian Zamora, who with his fiance Carla Rowland, founded MISSION:cleanWATER. The two combined their love for surfing with the philanthropic work of making clean water accessible to poor households in the rural areas of the Philippines. Also with the help of Waves4Water, they handed out filters to needy families in the surfing areas they visited in the Philippines, starting with Baler, Aurora. Combining clean water for the needy with protecting the environment, they teamed up with Project Save Our Surf, a non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of oceans and freshwater and to the preservation of marine life. While enjoying their favorite sport of surfing, they have focused on children who go to the public schools in beach resorts in Aurora, La Union, and Ilocos Norte. They typify the yuppies who can contribute to the prevention of environmental disasters like those that happened in Boracay as they continue to enjoy their favorite sea sports. The millennials and other young people who frequent such places as Baler (Aurora), San Juan (La Union), Pagudpud (Ilocos Norte), and Siargao Island have an important role in prodding both the local government officials and the large business establishments to implement strict environmental regulations to preserve mangroves and coral reefs in the numerous islands of the Philippine archipelago. I personally know some young entrepreneurs who are managing resorts in San Juan, La Union, who can partner with the LGU officials to implement rules and regulations that will prevent a Boracay-like disaster in this leading surfing spot that has already attracted many foreign visitors. They can be the model for other initiatives of millennials who combine their enjoyment of beach resorts with their concern for the environment.
Another example of a yuppie who started a business related to purifying water when he was in his late teens is Jose Antonio (Che) Soler who founded in the early 1990s Solerex Water Technologies, Inc., a leader in water treatment for home, commercial, and industrial establishments. I am especially proud of this entrepreneur because he is one of the first graduates of the pioneering Entrepreneurial Management Program of the university where I have been teaching for the last 50 years, the University of Asia and the Pacific. Che developed technologies to treat every possible water source, no matter how contaminated, so that his company has made available refreshing, clean, and pure water for home, commercial, and industrial establishments. The bottled water marketed by Solerex has the brand name Crystal Clear and is available in 500 branches nationwide. It has been so successful in the Philippines and some Southeast Asian nations that it is now serving the needs of water-challenged African nations, starting with Sierra Leone. In joint venture with a local firm Peninsular Innovative Group, Solerex is providing water supply, treatment, desalination, and storage solutions for both commercial and industrial projects in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital city. In the words of Che Soler, “We all know that many African countries lack potable drinking water, which is really bad since they have a very hot climate. Unsafe water contributes to the prevalence of many ailments. With this new venture, we hope to be able to provide Africans, starting with Sierra Leone, access to safe and quality drinking water.”
Every small effort to make water available to the less privileged will address the biggest challenge to humanity in the coming decades. It is said that energy supply will no longer be the greatest concern of humanity in this century. The greatest worry, especially of populous countries like China, is food security and the availability of water which is a requirement for food production. For this reason, it is important for a sufficient number of millennials to go back to the farm and together with small farmers and farm workers, devote themselves to small-scale food production. There is a movement promoted by Go Negosyo of Joey Concepcion that is called Kapatid-Young Entrepreneurs through which hundreds of experienced entrepreneurs mentor existing and would-be small farmers in the growing of high-value crops that can be sold to the urban populations in the country. Together with technology enterprises such as East Weed Seeds and Harbest, these mentors are transferring best practices in the growing of vegetables and fruits that are increasingly appearing in the diets of low-income and middle-income households, making for more nutritious and balanced diets. Hundreds of hectares of otherwise unproductive lands in the middle of “rurban” (partly rural and partly urban) provinces like Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, and Quezon are being planted to such crops as honeydew melon, sweet papaya, tomatoes, eggplants, cabbage, pepper, lettuce, onions, etc., that can be sold to the more than ten million people who live in the Metro Manila area. This form of urban gardening, which is widespread also in places like China, Taiwan, and South Korea, preserve agricultural lands which can contribute to a better ecology. As Pope Francis wrote in Laudato Si (Par. 129), “In order to continue providing employment, it is imperative to promote an economy which favors productive diversity and business creativity. For example, there is a great variety of small-scale food production systems which feed the greater part of the world’s peoples, using a modest amount of land and producing less waste, be it in small agricultural parcels in orchards and gardens, hunting and wild harvesting, or local fishing.” It also has to be mentioned that most of those who practice urban gardening use organic fertilizers and pesticides in order not to harm the physical environment.
Another very laudable initiative in which many millennials are involved is that of Tony Meloto’s Gawad Kalinga, a system of providing socialized and economic housing for informal settlers and other homeless families in which urban gardening is integrated. Family members cultivate a variety of crops in their backyard gardens for both self-consumption and sale to the market. I encourage interested millennials to visit their demonstration farms called Enchanted Farms in the province of Bulacan. There they will encounter young entrepreneurs, both Filipinos and foreigners, who are engaged in the whole value chain of agribusiness, from farming to post harvest to processing and retailing. How I wish many of our graduates from senior high schools and colleges would take interest in becoming agribusiness entrepreneurs! It is in this occupation that one can really practice what is known as social entrepreneurship, i.e., one promotes the good of society by helping the poor though employment, making food accessible at reasonable prices to them, and preserving the environment through good cultivation practices as one makes a decent profit to sustain the business.
(To be continued).