The Water Games


Photo Credit: Inquirer.net

Getting clean water for everyday use is like a Survivor challenge for some people in the Philippines; you have to outwit, outplay, and outsmart a lot of people to get those precious containers of water. Take my experience for example. For many years, access to clean water had always been a problem for my family. Whenever we would move to another house, we would always ponder existential questions like do we have regular running water there? If not, can we get it somewhere easily?

Anyway, back to the Survivor challenge. We used to live on the third floor of a compound, and we didn't have running water inside the house. Nobody had running water in the housing complex and in many residential buildings in the congested city of Manila. The only available water source in the compound was the deep well located on the ground floor. We had faucets in our houses, but you'd have more success transforming lead into gold than getting a drop of water from those. My mother had to wake up around four o'clock in the morning every day to fetch water from the ground floor. You have to be up early to beat out your neighbors and get ahead of the line. Then you have to access your inner Buddha for everlasting patience because it could take hours before the temperamental deep well decided to cough up water. You have to be vigilant and on high alert all the time, because waiting in line was a lesson on the transient nature of life: one moment you're fifth in line, the next you can be twentieth. I admit I've snuck in line myself few times. Sometimes, getting that precious container water was a survival of the sneakiest.

And have I mentioned that we were paying and fighting for water that was not exactly clean and safe? It looked safe. It's clean and it didn't smell sometimes. But my mother insisted that the waterlines weren't safe and they had contaminated the water. It's good enough for bathing and even cooking since we're boiling that, but for drinking? We still had to boil it and then filter it using several layers of clean fabric. And after United Nations' then Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's statement in 2010 that more people die from drinking unsafe water than from other forms of violence including wars, I'm glad we've listened to mother.

Through the years, there have been some improvements. Most of the places we've lived in recent years had better access to relatively safe water. At this place where we lived in about ten years ago, we had water running through our faucets. Right now, my family said they have running water all the time, but they still don't drink it. They buy and have large containers of drinking water delivered to their house regularly instead.

In a way, it seemed ironic. The Philippines is surrounded by large bodies of water-South China Sea, Celebes Sea, and the Pacific Ocean - yet access to clean water remains a problem for some Filipinos.

In the Asian Water Development Outlook 2016, Asian Development Bank (ADB) evaluated 50 countries' national water security according to factors such as access to clean water, water waste treatment, drainage system management, water sources for agriculture and industry, and policies and mechanisms regarding conservation of water resources. The Philippines scored a national water security index of 40.4 from a scoring system of 0-100, landing it in the bottom ten. Sad to say, that's already an improvement from its 2013 score of 35. It's an improvement, but according to the report, the Philippines remained a "global hot spot for water insecurity." Wastewater treatment was as low as 4% in the Philippines according to the study. Likewise, Philippines was one of the bottom five countries in terms of urban water security management, scoring 5.0 out of 20. The study also established a relationship between economic factors such as gross domestic product (GDP) in relation to water security. The report noted that those countries who graded high on GDP also performed well in the water security index, suggesting the importance of water security for economic growth. The research remarked the country's extreme weather conditions, growing population and improper resource management as critical factors contributing to water insecurity. As such, the findings encouraged government and private sectors to address key concerns such as population growth, policies for sustainable development, and identifying crucial points to cover the gap between the rich and poor when it came to access to water including improving water supply to slum areas.

One of the non-government organization (NGOs) helping improve the water problems in the Philippines is Green Empowerment - a Portland-based international non-profit organization. Green Empowerment along with its partnership with local organizations are doing an exemplary work to reach out and help eight countries in the world. Green Empowerment does sustainable energy and clean water projects overseas. They provide necessary tools and information to make the people in the community have a healthy sustainable life. Green Empowerment is working with local NGOs in the Philippines to provide the Filipino people the necessary tools to a healthy sustainable life. To know more of what the Green Empowerment impact has done for the Philippines and to other countries in the world, click on Green Empowerment.

For the last twenty years, if I'm going to use my personal experience as a gauge, I'd say that yes, there has been an improvement in the water problem in my home country as reflected by the ADB report. However, as the ADB report also stated, there is still much left to be desired. Most people are still not brave enough to drink water directly from their faucets in the Philippines. That is if they even have water running through their faucets in the first place. We need proper government interventions along with help from NGOs like Green Empowerment to help ensure that no people would go through Survivor-esque challenges just to get that container of usable water.