Water Champions initiate or implement water reforms in their chosen field, and are directlyinvolved in improving the water situation in their respective countries.
Water ChampionMaria Lourdes Fernando: Keeping Marikina River in the Pink of Health
Knowledge Management Officer
ABOUT THE CHAMPION
Maria Lourdes “Marides” Fernando is the thrice elected Mayor of Marikina City, considered one of the most progressive,peaceful, and environmentally-conscious cities in the Philippines.Over the last 2 decades, Marikina has garnered some 200 awards and citations from local and international bodies, frombeing the “Cleanest and Greenest City” and “Most Competitive Metro City” in the Philippines to being one of the “Healthiest and Most Livable Cities” in the Asia-Pacific. Much of the credit goes to Mayor Fernando, whose 3 terms asMayor has driven Marikina’s transformation from a sleepy town to a bustling metropolis.One of Marikina’s successes was thecleanupof the Marikina River, the centerpiece of Marikina’s transport and tourism industries in the19th century that heavy pollution turned into a major headache and source of embarrassment by the 1970s. Under the leadership of MayorFernando’s predecessor and husband, then Mayor Bayani Fernando, the city government launched in 1993 the “Save the Marikina River” Program, an ambitious river cleanup program that involved clearing the river banks of all encroachments (both factories and informalsettlers), reviving the quality of the river’s water by demanding water treatment facilities from industries, and establishing the riverenvironment as sports, recreational, and cultural centers.By the time Mayor Fernando assumed office in 2001, most of the physical work involved in the cleanup was done and the Marikina RiverPark had become the city’s eco-tourism showcase, complete with its 11-kilometer jogging and biking lanes, skating rink, picnic and playgrounds, sports amenities, amphitheater, floating stages, and more. But hers is the greater challenge of sustaining the gains from the firstcleanup and raising the bar in terms of the river’s support infrastructures, e.g. more access roads or wastewater treatment facilities.Mayor Fernando is no stranger to accolades, having received more than her fair share in the past decade. Among the latest in her longstring of awards is the2008 Top Mayors of the World Award, where she placed 7th from a long list of 820 nominees, cut down to 50nominees and then 11 honorees. Mayor Fernando is the only Asian in this group, which includes mayors from South Africa, Switzerland,Venezuela, USA, Germany, Ecuador, Iran, Sweden, Guatemala, and Brazil.
What did you think of the Marikina River when youfirst saw it?
Back in my childhood days, Marikina River was a differentriver. It’s an ideal place for promenading. There’s no putridstench. You can touch the water and not worry aboutdiseases. It’s really too bad that uncontrolled urban sprawlcaught up with it.
Comparing between the 1970s/1980s and now, howdo Marikina residents relate to their river?
Before the cleanup, the Marikina River was the poster imageof a neglected and unhealthy river and only a few bravesouls dared come close to it. Today, it has evolved intoMetro Manila’s eco-tourism showcase—teeming with life andeconomic activities.
As Marikina mayor, what is your vision for the river?
You know, if Marikeñoscan touch and feel theriver, they will feel morestrongly about it, moreprotective. I want toimprove the quality of the water dramatically sothat people can andwould want to touch andsmell it. At the moment,we’re looking atestablishing septagetreatment facilities and effective regulation of wastedisposal as the means to do this.
How did the drive to clean up Marikina River begin?
My husband, who was Marikina’s newly-elected mayor in1992, had wanted to clean the river for a long time. Heknew that malaria and diarrhea, which kills millions eachyear, come from dirty water. Too, flooding in the city hadworsened by then, exposing over 10,000 homes to floodrisks. Cleaning and reviving the Marikina River wouldn’t justremove these risks; they would also provide a betterenvironment and quality of life for Marikeños.
You weren’t the mayor yet when the Save theMarikina Program was implemented. Were youinvolved in any way?
Yes, I was actively involved in the Zonta Club of Marikinaand we supported the construction of the river park’s RomanGarden. We also conducted information and educationcampaigns, which were crucial in keeping Marikeñosinformed and involved in the cleanup process.
In your opinion, which steps or strategies spelledsuccess for the river cleanup?
One of the most crucial was really the establishment of theMarikina River’s width measured from the centerline of thewater. Once we established the 96 meter easement, andenacted an ordinance on it, we gained a solid argument toconvince informal settlers and structures along theriverbanks to relocate. Without their resettling, we couldn’thave done the cleanup work.