The number of people affected by the shortage in Manila is only one thousandth of the those without access to clean water nationwide. Waves for Water Country Director, Carlo Delantar, invites Filipinos to help.
On March 7, every Filipino in Metro Manila thought about how to get their water.
At least 52,000 people were affected in Eastern Metro Manila, in what is now referred to as a “water crisis,” when the privately-owned provider, Manila Water, cut entire neighborhoods off from their supply.
The cut-off happened, ironically, on the same month as World Water Day, without due notice, as Manila Water explained after the fact that they could no longer keep up with the demand. According to a report by Rappler, the company also stated that they anticipated a shortage happening in March, making the calls for accountability even louder.
Access to water is a basic human right that has long been recognized by the United Nations; water should be “sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic use.
But beyond Manila’s recent shortage, it is also a right that has been deprived from many Filipinos who have had to think about where to get their water every day for years.
The Big Picture
“Outside of the metropolitan cities, a majority [of communities] don't have water infrastructure,” says Carlo Delantar, Country Director of Waves for Water, an NGO that provides clean water to communities around the Philippines through disaster response and community development programs.
Miguelito Manuzon, a farmer from Bulacan, has had trouble getting access to clean water for his whole life. “Ang tubig ‘yan, mahal rin ‘yan. Lalo na ‘pag matagal na panahon wala. ‘Tsaka ‘di lang naman kami nangangailangan pag nawawalan ng tubig dito… pati mga kabarangay namin o mga kapitbahay.”
[“Water is expensive. Much more when it’s been gone for a long time. And we’re not the only ones who are in need when there is no water here. Our neighbours do too.”]
In Batasan Matanda, San Miguel, Bulacan, where Miguelito lives, the residents take tricycles to the city in order to buy their own drinking water. Some of them, like his family, pay the barangay for access to their water system, but it isn’t advisable for drinking. He says that when there isn’t drinking water to buy in the city, the residents end up fighting.
“Since we're archipelagic, we can't really connect pipes to all 7,641 islands,” Carlo explains, “So people rely on deep wells or rain catchment systems. And even then, that still subjective to contamination.”
Contamination can lead to a variety of illnesses—World Health Organization reports that in 2016, acute watery diarrhoea caused over 139,000 deaths.
According to Water.org, “Nine million Filipinos rely on unimproved, unsafe and unsustainable sources of water and 19 million lack access to improved sanitation.” World Bank estimates the total number to be close to 25 million Filipinos.
That figure is more than a thousand times the number of people affected by the Manila water crisis—a figure that is likely to get bigger given the growing population, Carlo warns: “It's going to be more and more limited because of the rising population. There are efforts being done now, and they could work. But it's going to take a few years before we see it affecting a lot of people.”
In the mean time, water shortages still happen across the country and regular citizens like Miguelito have adjusted to an unfair normal, and it takes its toll: “Buong buhay ko na ginagawa ito eh,” he says. “Kahit papaano, marunong ako gumawa ng paraan kapag may shortage sa tubig. Pero siyempre lahat kami dito sa barangay nagkakaagawan minsan.”
[“Well, I’ve been doing this my whole life. No matter what, I know how to make ways when there is a shortage of water. But of course, all of us here… we compete for resources sometimes.”]
Is there something I can do?
While incidents like the Manila water shortage are timely reminders about the urgent need for a systematized national response, initiatives like Waves of Water make it possible to contribute.
To date, they’ve reportedly donated and installed over 10,000 portable filtration systems in 50 provinces, providing clean water to more than a million people.
A primary boundary to access to clean water is the lack of national funding, which is why NGOs that secure funds from international grants or private donations are imperative to the cause.
One of Waves for Waters’ programs, Clean Water Couriers invites Filipinos traveling to far-flung communities to fundraise for filters on their official website, which they also provide. Waves for Water can also train the volunteer to install the filtration system, so that he or she can pass the training on to the community.
“Our mantra is: do what you love, help along the way. It’s lifestyle-driven. We always say that you don't need to take time off to help people,” says Carlo. “You can do whatever you like, whatever you love and help people on the way. If you were a mountaineer and you are already going to an area, you pass by a few communities, you bring a few filters.”
“I’ve seen the shortage of Manila, and some people say that it is political, that there are many factors...I can't really draw a conclusion. But the silver lining here is that people now value water. That is so important, because it is not going to get easier in the next few years.”