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Lack of clean water haunts millions in the Philippines

Amid a lack of reliable supply millions use water from unsafe sources, and even defecate in the open, official says
People in the Philippine capital Manila wait in a queue to collect water from a water point

People in the Philippine capital Manila wait in a queue to collect water from a water point. (Photo: Marissa Carbonel)

Published: March 20, 2023 11:27 AM GMT
Updated: March 20, 2023 11:40 AM GMT

Expensive pipe water systems and corruption are among the main reasons behind a lack of clean water in Filipino households, residents grappling with the problem said reacting to a government report.

“Our politicians, for several years, have been promising they would improve our water supply. But until now, we barely get enough to use for ourselves, for our animals and plants,” Rolando Laceda, 56, a resident of Guinobatan Albay, south of the capital Manila told UCA News.

The father of three said the water ration in his area is available between 4:00 am to 7:00 am, and then again at 11:00 pm.

“I wake up very early to save water using our five big buckets but still it is not enough as my three children need to take a bath before going to school,” Laceda told UCA News.

He said the children almost finish the water he saves in the morning.

“Usually, I take a bath by midnight so that my children could take a bath in the morning,” said Laceda who works in a shoe selling and repairing shop. His wife is a homemaker who earns some income from making and selling cupcakes.

Despite the lack of supply, Laceda said he pays over 1,000 pesos (US$18) per month for getting water from the state-run ration point.

To get water piped to his home, he will need to pay 500 pesos (US$ 9) per foot of metal water pipe, which he cannot afford.

There are millions of families like the Lacedas who struggle daily to get clean water in the Catholic-majority nation.

National Water Resource Board's Executive Director Sevillo David, Jr. said that about 11 million families lack access to clean water, and many are forced to rely on water from “unprotected sources” like deep wells and springs. 

“Almost 11 million families do not have access to clean water yet. The water source for 11 million families is almost unsafe,” David said in an interview with ABS-CBN on March 20.

Official data from 2020 showed the Philippines had 26.3 million families.

David claimed that lack of water results in poor sanitation that forced some families to defecate in the open risking water and soil pollution.

“They can’t help it. Of course, if there is no water, families will have no choice but to defecate in the open,” he added.

Jingle Rebondon, 24, also a resident from Albay, admitted he and his brother Roel, 27, sometimes defecate in Tagas River because they had no water in their toilets.

 “It’s not all the time but certainly we’ve done it because we don’t have water in our comfort room. There’s no pipeline that connects us to the main pipe along the road. It’s too expensive,” he said.

Rebondon said the water point is about one kilometer, so due to the expensive system, he cannot afford to get piped water at home.

The water crisis situation did not change much in the past years. In 2021, out of 109 million people, 57 million, or 52 percent of the population in the country lacked access to reliable water, according to Water.org, a non-profit organization battling the water crisis. 

The group said in its report said that "43 million people (39 percent) lack access to safely managed household sanitation facilities.” 

“Despite its growing economy, the Philippines faces significant challenges in terms of water and sanitation access. The country is rapidly urbanizing, and its growing cities struggle to provide new residents with adequate water and sanitation services,” the report added. 

Corruption is also blamed for the poor state of water and sanitation in the country.

The Philippines was ranked 116th among 180 nations in Corruption Perception Index 2022 by Berlin-based Transparency International.

In 2019, anti-corruption lawyer Cyril Ramos claimed the country has lost around 700 billion pesos (US$12.8 billion), or around 20 percent of the national budget to corruption per annum, ABS-CBN reported.

Poverty is also cited as a driving factor behind the lack of access to clean water.

The Philippines Statistics Agency reported in 2022 that about 18.1 percent or about 19.99 million Filipinos lived below the poverty line.

Head of Catholic charity Caritas Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo of Kidapawan said the crisis of clean water is a serious problem, so the agency has been involved in clean water projects since 2015, especially constructing deep wells for families.

“More than 50,000 people have benefited from this project (since 2015). But we are prioritizing those areas that were hit by typhoons and really have no water… we cannot solve this water crisis alone,” Bishop Bagaforo told UCA News.

There is “still so much to be done,” he said.

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