At the crack of dawn, Aling Ising Valdez begins her morning by strapping two empty containers on her shoulders before leaving the small house she shares with husband Rommel and their four children. She negotiates a steep and narrow path leading to the main road. She must do this fast before her husband and children wake up in time for their morning bath and breakfast. Upon reaching the road, Aling Ising walks a small distance and carefully places her two containers at the end of a long queue of other pails, jugs and basins waiting their turn to be filled with water.
Later, she hands over a ten peso bill to the man supplying the water and then straps the heavy containers to her shoulders to bring back home. This is all she can carry. She must return later and line up again.
“Mahirap talaga, pero kailangang gawin kasi wala kaming pang-inom at pangpaligo. Mahirap na sa katawan, magastos pa kasi malaki ang kinakain sa budget namin (It’s hard work but it needs to be done so we can have water to drink and bathe in. Its physically painful, and eats up a big slice of the family budget),” Aling Ising sighs in dismay.
Water is scarce along the eight-kilometer West Bank of the Manggahan Floodway along the Pasig River. Thousands of residents can only get water from a few sellers who source water from their deep wells and then sell the precious liquid at high rates.
Fortunately, there’s hope for urban poor residents like Aling Ising and her family.
Together with the informal settler communities in its East Zone concession area, Manila Water Company created the Tubig Para sa Barangay program to improve the quality of life in these communities. The program was initially conceived in 1998 to deliver water services to government social priority areas within the East Zone.
Now nearing its 4th year, Tubig Para sa Barangay exemplifies the efficiency and innovation that private business can bring to public service. Since the privatization of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), the program has provided properly connected water services to thousands of less fortunate city dwellers in Quezon City, Marikina, Mandaluyong, San Juan, Pasig, Makati, Taguig, Pateros, San Andres and Sta. Ana in Manila. It has eliminated leaks and illegal connections in these areas and as a result improved not only water services but also public health through proper sanitation and hygiene.
Manila Water president Antonino Aquino believes that Tubig Para sa Barangay is also freeing up vital income opportunities in these communities. “The program will help transform the East’s informal settler areas into productive and self-sufficient communities that contribute to nation-building,” says Aquino.
In response to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s appeal to the private sector on poverty alleviation, Manila Water launched at least six major projects under Tubig Para Sa Barangay. These projects have been providing clean, affordable water to some 300,000 individuals in more than 100 communities. The biggest project, the P120-million Manggahan Floodway Water Supply Project, was inaugurated by Pres. Arroyo in September 2001. When completed, it will supply over 15 million liters of water a day to more than 200,000 residents of informal settler communities along the stretch of the canal.
Meanwhile, the West Bank of the Manggahan Floodway has been given a new life. Its 9,000 families can now draw inexpensive, potable water from their own household taps. Gone are the days of lining up to buy prohibitively priced and non-potable water from ambulant vendors or relying on unsafe connections tapped clandestinely to the utility’s mainlines.
According to Aquino, the company’s core commitment to customers like Aling Ising is to make water available to as many households as possible via safe and affordable service connections. Beyond meeting its service obligation targets, Manila Water aims to supply the metropolis’ growing demand.
“Tubig Para sa Barangay will help us realize this commitment much faster,” says Aquino.