CLARK FREEPORT, Pampanga – Some 7.1 million Filipinos resort to “open defecation” while 570,000 more use “unimproved sanitation facilities” like buckets and open-pit latrines.
“No other report indicts our skewed progress more than this. No other data portrays the lack of inclusive growth than this one,” said Sen. Ralph Recto in his speech during the 37th annual convention of the Philippine Association of Water Districts (PAWD) here Thursday.
Recto said such information was hardly noticed in the recent joint report card of the UNICEF-World Health Organization on the state of water and sanitation in the Philippines, as they were in fine print in the report. “The report’s summary that 7.5 million Filipinos have no toilets, while 8.4 million have no access to clean drinking water, may not jolt us, couched as they are in cold prose, but what’s disturbing are buried in its fine print,” he said.
“For drinking, 2.3 million Filipinos use untreated surface water of rivers, dams and canals. In addition, 6.1 million Filipinos source their drinking water from unimproved drinking water sources like unprotected dug wells and unprotected springs,” he said.
“In this age of smart phones with flash drives, there are millions without flush toilets. This reality is not found in reports alone. Presidentiables encounter them in their sorties around the country,” Recto said as he challenged presidential candidates to address these issues. He noted that “election, like the water business, should be demand-driven.” “It is not enough that applicants for the highest office in the land should just supply us with what they intend to do with the mandate they want us to give them,” he said. Recto also urged candidates and government leaders to focus more on water and the potential problems of the El Niño phenomenon, noting that presidential aspirants “have a sound bite for every issue, but no sound program for the most important – water.” “Daily, provinces have been reporting about the ravages of the dry spell. Dams have dried up and crops are failing. In one province, it must have been so hot that even rats have come out of their cool hiding dens,” he said.
The lawmaker also warned that Metro Manila may soon feel the water problem as both Maynilad and Manila Water, which supply the metropolis with potable water, have warned of a tight supply by summer and a possible rationing if the situation gets worse.
Challenging the water districts nationwide, Recto said: “You are present in 514 towns and cities. It is a grassroots network that is wider than the country’s biggest bank. One in five Filipinos is a customer of yours. Combined, you represent 20 million people. Suppose this population will be awarded congressional representation, then, in theory, you can end up occupying almost 60 (Congress) seats.” Recto believes a department should be created to address exclusively the country’s water needs and fold other water-related agencies, like the irrigation administration and water resources board, under it.