Weeping Over Water

Why are we still experiencing a water crisis in the east part of Metro Manila? 

More than a month after the water crisis in eastern Metro Manila began, we are still experiencing water rationing in the areas covered by Manila Water. The ongoing El Nino also threatens to restrict supply in the western concession area of Maynilad. This crisis is striking in that that the problems and the solutions were well-known but that there were clear inactions and delays from concerned parties.  

The concessionaire and the regulator failed at contingency planning. Set procedures did not exist for crisis management and communication. In the early days of the crisis, a personal Facebook account became a critical source of information. When the flow of water trickled, so did the flow of information. 

Water governance was ill defined. The regulator, MWSS (Manila Waterworks and Sewerage Authority), was under the thumb of the two concessionaires, with its operating expenses paid for by them, a clear case of conflict of interest. MWSS had little technical and political capacity to regulate the sector, and to assure citizens. 

The existing water laws are highly outdated; the Water Code (P.D. 1067) is 43 years old and should have been amended a long time ago to take account of climate change and the increasing frequency of El Nino. The contracts of the concessionaires did not provide penalties for poor performance, a clear oversight in those who formulated such contracts. 

R.A. 6715 of 1989 mandates the construction of rainwater harvesters in all barangays, but this was not widely implemented. Moreover, while Manila Water claims there are ongoing projects on reservoirs and water treatment plants, they are yet to be completed. 

Nowhere is the neglect of water issues more visible than the continued bickering over the long-delayed construction of the Kaliwa Dam, which was identified as absolutely necessary infrastructure project as early as the 1980s. What is needed is a presidential executive order to fast-track action on projects already on the table (dams, aqueducts, and treatment plants), and legislative reforms that Congress should prioritize to achieve water security in the long-term.

About the Author
Mr. Oscar F. Picazo is a retired specialist in health systems, health economics, and social policy. He has worked in 24 countries for the World Bank, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and as an independent consultant. He returned to the Philippines in 2009 and became a senior research consultant for the Philippine Institute of Development Studies.
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