Where’s our water?

March 21, 2020

by Jose Lorenzo Lim

The World Health Organization (WHO) stated that the best way to avoid COVID-19 is by simply handwashing frequently with soap and water for around 20 seconds. Soap dissolves the fat membranes of the SARS-CoV-2, which is the pathogen that causes COVID-19 and makes it inactive. Sounds easy right? But unfortunately, we don’t have water in our area since it has been on rotation for the past months and isopropyl alcohol has been sold out everywhere. This leaves our barangay susceptible to COVID-19.

In March 2019, Metro Manila experienced a water crisis. Manila Water Company Inc. and Maynilad Water Services said the main reason for the water crisis was that the La Mesa Dam breached its critical level of 69 meters, which was the lowest level in the past 12 years. Aside from the low water level, water companies also blamed the lack of dams to the water shortage in Metro Manila.

This was further supported by the Duterte government which touted the idea of adding more dams in the country. One such dam to address the water crisis is the Kaliwa Dam under the New Centennial Water Source Project (NCWSP), which will be built in Quezon province and is funded with a Php12-billion China loan. This loan is said to be onerous since it may lead to the Philippines giving up strategic resources in case of default. However, the Kaliwa Dam is not the only China-funded project that the Duterte government wants to prioritize building. Out of the 10 water resource projects in the 100-infrastructure flagship program (IFP), there are five water resource projects for China loans worth Php72.9 billion.

The water crisis led to so much clamor that Duterte ordered the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) to release water from the Angat Dam to address the water shortage in Metro Manila. It led to water being restored to most areas. But until now, areas like Caloocan city, where I live, still experience rotational water interruptions which starts at around six in the morning and ends at around four in the afternoon. Our barangay only gets water during the afternoon and nighttime which is the time we collect water. Our household is fortunate because we are able to collect water through plastic water drums when water is available.  

Unfortunately, some of our neighbors don’t have the capacity to collect water since they don’t have the capacity to pay for water and thus heavily rely on illegal water connections. What’s worse is that some of the households don’t have proper facilities for handwashing. So how can they wash their hands to avoid COVID-19? Well, they have to wait for water to return in the afternoon to even take a bath or wash their hands.

A study released by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) in 2017 observed that access of households to soap and water increases with increasing wealth. Around 98% of households in the highest wealth quintile have soap and water for handwashing, while only 75% of households in the poorest wealth quintile have soap and water for handwashing.  All the more reason for the government to address the issue of poverty, right?

Aside from poverty, the government has to address the issue of our diminishing water supply.  Not by building dams for profit nor onerous loans but by sourcing from existing water bodies and systems which can contribute up to 5,663 million liters per day (MLD). This, compared to the Kaliwa Dam project, which is only 600 MLD, according to the Network Opposed to the NCWSP.

Some experts estimate that the onslaught of COVID-19 in the Philippines will peak in April and eventually subside in June. I just hope that Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Cimatu is right in saying that we have enough water for the rest of the year or else more and more areas will be susceptible to COVID-19. It’s already four o’clock and as I’m finishing up with this article, I’m left staring at our dry faucet and asking, “Where’s our water?”