The right to water

By: Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos March 26,2017 - 10:20 PM

Atty. Gloria Ramos

Atty. Gloria Ramos

Starting one’s day without water coming out of the faucet is not just inconvenient, it is a reminder of the worrisome water crisis we face. Cebu has long been tagged as having severe water challenges, but it is an issue which is, more often than not, conveniently disregarded — that is, until the next water calamity comes along.

Looking back at the news reports a year ago, the cities, municipalities and the province of Cebu already faced severe water shortage. Water rationing was resorted to. With summer about to set in, we are still hard-pressed to give the issue the much-deserved attention that it urgently needs.

The Philippines is among the countries in Asia facing severe pressure on its water resources. Among the reasons are “growing population especially in the urban areas together with water pollution, wasteful and inefficient use, continued denudation of forest cover (particularly in watersheds), and saltwater intrusion caused by excessive withdrawal of groundwater (particularly in the metropolitan area of Cebu, Davao City, and certain areas of Metro Manila)”, according to a study made in 2013 by the Asian Development Bank.

The study made reference to the World Health Organization (WHO)–United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) report on the Philippines’ water access situation in March 2012 that “highlighted a wide disparity in access between urban and rural areas: 61% in urban areas compared to only 25% in rural areas.”

One can just imagine how many of our people are denied access to clean water, and proper sanitation and hygiene.

The ADB study quoted a 2007 Philippine government report in its Philippine Sustainable Sanitation Roadmap which summarized the challenges posed by sanitation. “Few households are connected to a sewerage network (less than 5% by most estimates). The majority of households with toilets are connected to septic tanks that are poorly designed or maintained; therefore, most effluent is likely to be discharged without treatment. Weak management of solid waste and sanitation is a large challenge, since this contributes to contamination and pollution of surface and ground water sources. Problems include (i)  lack of policies and effective governance and regulation, (ii) low levels of awareness and political will for improving sanitation; (iii) inadequate funds for financing infrastructure; and (iv) lack of sanitation capacity.”

The study noted that “(i)n 2007, the Philippines Environment Monitor reported that much of the surface water in most large urban centers comprises rivers that pose a public health risk (Class C standard or below). Levels of coliform bacteria in all rivers in Manila, including the tributaries of Laguna de Bay, exceed Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) standards, in some cases by several orders of magnitude. Many beaches in Manila Bay, especially those along the eastern side, also have levels of bacteria that present a significant health risk to those using the bay for transport, fishing, or bathing. The report estimated that 95% of the wastewater from urban households flows into groundwater, public canals, drainage systems, rivers, and other water bodies, either directly, or after only receiving minor treatment in poorly designed or maintained septic tanks. This leaves urban drainage systems and groundwater contaminated with human waste. Urban communities living close to open drainage systems and those that rely on groundwater, wells, and leaky water distribution systems for their water supply are thus at risk. Contaminated surface water from open defecation and sewage in rural areas is also common, which threatens biodiversity and reduces overall quality of life.”
According to Water.Org, in the Philippines, updated as of January, 2017, the situation is not good. “Out of 101 million Filipinos, 8 million rely on unimproved, unsafe and unsustainable water sources and 26.5 million lack access to improved sanitation. 5.8 million Filipinos in rural areas still practice open defecation.

The consequences of this lack of access are dire. There are 520,000 cases of waterborne diseases recorded annually. Eighteen Filipinos die daily from diarrhea and other waterborne diseases. Fifty-five Filipinos die daily from diseases caused by lack of proper sewerage and sanitation facilities.

Families without a safe water source in or near their home often spend significant time and energy collecting water. Those without a sanitary toilet facility at home face a number of unattractive choices. Venture into the dark rice paddies or sugar cane fields, risking snakebites, robbery or even sexual assault, hold it until morning, or suffer the embarrassment of asking to borrow the toilet of a neighbor or relative. Others defecate in nearby rivers or streams, contaminating local water sources. Thus, Filipinos consider water and sanitation access a matter of safety, pride, progress, and convenience, in addition to the health considerations.”


I still remember the women in Naga City in Cebu years back who shared their sad experience of having to wake up early and walk a long way to get water for their family’s needs because the indiscriminate dumping of coal ash contaminated the water in the artesian well.

The right to sufficient, safe, reliable and affordable water is a basic human right. Government should ensure that such right of the citizens is protected.

At the local level, it is the primary responsibility of local government units, coordinating with the national agencies, to ensure adequate water supply, allocate the necessary budget for the needed infrastructure to make said right real and sanction irresponsible behavior of polluters.

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