Access to Clean Water and Waterworks System: a Young Water Professional’s Perspective

  • Many people lack access to safe potable water.
  • Economic, political, and environmental factors are often closely interconnected in these situations.
  • Resources and education for the marginalised sectors are needed in order to resolve this existing issue.

As we go on with our lives, have we ever thought about the things that we cannot live without? We wake up, accomplish our daily tasks and routinely live our lives with ease. While there are people who don’t have to worry about necessities, there are also people who have no choice but to wake up early and walk for miles just to have sufficient water supply for survival. The 2019 Progress Report on SDG 6 of Sustainable Water and Sanitation, states that, “despite progress, billions of people still lack safe water, sanitation and handwashing facilities”. As a young water professional, I had several encounters in communities that don’t have access to potable water and Level III (waterworks system/individual household) water systems. Economic, political, and environmental factors are often linked in these situations. 

Back in 2019, I had a chance to traverse the floating village of Chong Khneas, which is located on the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia. During the trip, I had a chance to talk with the tour guide about their water situation in the floating village. He had lived in Tonle Sap for all his life, and he mentioned that if the bottled water supply, usually from donations/government funds, are not enough, their only option is to utilize the existing water resource available. In this case, it would be the water from the lake. Since they don’t have an on-site water treatment system, they only filter the lake water using their clothes. For convenience, the residents would settle on this option, but is it enough to ensure that the water is safe for drinking? Water-borne diseases are conditions caused by pathogenic microorganisms that are transmitted in water. Eliminating the bacteria or viruses by using cloth as a filter is not enough; surface water treatment requires more advanced water treatment such as reverse osmosis, nano filtration or UV-treatment. Resources and education for the marginalised sectors are needed in order to resolve this existing issue. This problem is not only present in developing countries like Cambodia, but it can happen anywhere.

Chong Khneas Floating Village, Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia

In the Philippines for instance, Water Service Providers (WSP) with a Level III water system cover approximately 21.41% while 56.55% is from the Level I (Point Source) water system, as per the NWRB Listahang Tubig national survey. Barangays or Municipalities suffer from an intermittent water supply, a general lack of it as well as water scarcity and dropping groundwater levels. Similarly, old water systems suffer from a high percentage of Non-Revenue Water (NRW) due to a lack of management or resources. Also, with an increasing pollution in our water bodies and lands, our access to safe water is affected. In 2018 for example, whilst planting trees with the Kalikasan Leadership and Social Support (KLSS) Community (a group of hikers/mountaineers with the mission to protect the environment), I observed that the Ipo Watershed might be affected by siltation that can occur if illegal logging incidents persist. Considering that the Ipo Watershed is connected to the Angat-Umiray-Ipo watersheds system, one of the major water sources in Metro Manila, it should follow the strict compliance as per the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) regulation on Class AA Water Body Classification, and be declared a protected area. Although the DENR and organisations like the WWF Philippines are helping to protect these areas, the above narratives may go a long way to affect overall water service provisioning.

A picture taken during the tree planting activity, guided by the DENR and KLSS Community. (Ipo Watershed, Bulacan, Philippines)

Apart from water source protection, institutional water management practices, such as poor WASH financing, adds to the challenge of water service provision. From a water service provider’s perspective, feasibility studies are relevant before taking over an existing water system or building a new one. In reality, the proprietor, usually the local government unit/private establishments, would prefer the lowest possible bid without necessarily paying attention to the feasibility, timely execution and completion of the project. With this, proposed projects may delay or even halt, jeopardizing the main goal of providing safe water to people as a priority and as a human right.

As we go on with our lives, we often tend to just go with the flow. But if we do not take the necessary actions, someday, there will not any flow left for us. As water-advocates in a place like the Phillipines, what can we do? We can always start within ourselves. Practice water conservation by using water wisely, report any leaks or illegal tapping to the concerned management/government. We need to be aware of our local laws and basic sanitation standards associated with clean water and sanitation. With this, we can use it to educate the people around us. Lastly, we can start volunteering or be an active member of NGOs and organisations to help assist in any water related issues.

Kathleen is a Sanitary Engineer from the Department of Health Central Visayas focusing on Environmental and Occupational Health programs and regulations pursuant to the Code on Sanitation of the Philippines. She previously worked with Hitachi Aqua-Tech Engineering on water and wastewater treatment system proposals. She is also an officer of the Philippine Young Water Professionals, supporting the Public Relations and Communications of the organisation.

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