The water crisis was avoidable

"It's no surprise that Metro Manila's water requirements have grown to oceanic proportions."


The present water shortage, the worst to hit Metro Manila in many years, directly affects an estimated six million people in the east zone. 

In a television interview last Thursday, Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System Chief Regulator Patrick Ty said that blame for the crisis could be laid at government’s door.

“It’s our fault,” he said. “It’s the government because the Kaliwa Dam, Laiban Dam has been proposed since the Marcos time and due to lot of oppositions and accommodations for the IPs [indigenous people], from the informal settlers, from this leftist group, church group, these projects keep on getting moved.”      

He also admitted that concessionaires Manila Water and Maynilad have been clamoring for other water sources since 2007. 

In November last year, the two water suppliers were quoted in media as advocating for the construction of the New Centennial Water Source Project or Kaliwa Dam in Quezon Province, which can supply 600 mld. 

According to some sources, the project will cost P12.1 billion, with 85 percent to be funded by a loan from China and 15 percent to be shouldered by MWSS. Information on the MWSS website puts the project cost at P18.724 billion.

It’s clear the two water companies have been aware of the water source problem for at least 12 years, but politics and other related factors have gotten in the way of constructing the proposed projects that could have forestalled the current water shortage. 

It’s sickening that millions are going without the baths and washing so dear to Filipinos, a cleanly people, all because past government administrations were indecisive or incompetent. 

It’s laudable that this current administration is finally proceeding with the stalled project, but it is galling to be beholden to China yet again, given its militaristic stance in the West Philippine Sea.

In any case, work on Kaliwa Dam will not be completed until 2023. That’s rather too long for people to wait for a steady and reliable water supply.

San Miguel Corp. president Ramon Ang recently offered to share the company’s untapped water allocation of 140 million mld from Angat Dam via SMC’s Bulacan Bulk Water Treatment Plant. He said the water can be delivered in tanker trucks to refilling stations in affected areas. This tactic can be used until the end of the El Niño, around four months or so. 

But the logistics to carry out this plan will be a nightmare, involving “14,000 truck trips per day using 10-kiloliter (kl) tankers, or 7,000 trips per day using 20-kl tankers” according to Should the government approve this scheme, expect the already bad traffic to worsen on the routes to be taken by these trucks.

It’s no surprise that Metro Manila’s water requirements have grown to oceanic proportions. Condominiums and smaller residential buildings are sprouting like mushrooms, many with the capacity to house thousands of people. All put together, they could house millions. Looking into the near future, congestion in the metro will grow much worse.

Along with finding alternate sources of water to end this shortage, government and businesses should also look into moving out of the metro and into the outlying southern and northern provinces that are already bedroom communities for employees working in Manila. 

Smaller companies, particularly those owned and run by millenials, are disrupting the traditional patterns by locating outside of Manila or adopting work-from-home.

For instance, Kezar Innovations, a profitable technology startup, is based in Tanauan, Batangas, for its affordable rent and light traffic, and because most of its team members live in Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, and Quezon. 

Meanwhile, a content development company based in Las Piñas operates totally online. The writers and other creatives they hire work from home or a nearby coffee shop or internet shop, sending in their assignments via email. Whether based in Cavite or Bulacan or even Jolo, they can work, as long as they have a stable Internet connection. It might be that the employers and employees will never meet each other—but the work gets done and people make a living.

If the water shortage weren’t bad enough, word is that there could be cuts in the electricity supply as well. With summer upon us, water and power shortages will lead to ill health among the population, as well as tremendous losses for businesses and disruptions in service of hospitals, fire stations, and the like. Construction and other activities will be delayed or impeded.

If this administration wants to leave a legacy of accomplishments, it had better address these issues immediately, perhaps by appointing a ‘czar’ as was done back in the day, someone who would devote all their time and attention, and government’s resources, to solving a specific problem. 

Meanwhile, best of luck to everyone working to bring water back to the east zone. May those in the waterless areas soon enjoy regular baths again.

* * *  

*stands at podium* I would like to thank rubbing alcohol, wet wipes, and micellar water for keeping me fresh and clean during this totally preventable water crisis. / FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO

Topics: water shortage , Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System , Patrick Ty , Manila Water , Maynilad , New Centennial Water Source Project , Ramon Ang
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