SIASI, SULU – Water is a precious resource. In fact, it is one of the world’s most important resources, yet two fifths of the people of our planet face severe shortages of it.
In the Philippines, access to safe water and hygiene is an alarming issue though the country was known to have copious water sources.
Statistics showed that only 35% of the populations have access to safe water. In Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the country’s poorest region, the statistics are even more alarming as only 24% of its entire population has access to clean water.
In this town, about 58 kilometers southwest of Sulu’s capital, Jolo, the situation is most serious and access to clean drinking water alone accounts for water-borne diseases particularly hostile to children. The situation here was desperate for many.
Villagers tried to bring clean water supplies to the entire town village. Here, they have drilled over 100 unsafe hand pumped wells in the communities.
For Nina Tingkahan, a native from the village of Latung, getting clean water is a daily struggle to keep her and her family well and alive.
The 38-year-old mother of 12, Tingkahan, along with other women here have very little status in this poor town. Before the advent of potable water system—they were the ones fetching the water from distant wells but also working in the fields and attending the family.
For several years, mothers in other nearby villages of Siolakan, Bakud, and Duggo, aptly known as SiBakLatuD, collected water from the rocky terrain carrying heavy pots back to their community, their children in tow were hauling same weighty buckets.
SiBakLatuD is a remote village in the island of Siasi. It is surrounded by bodies of water to the eastern portion of Sulu Sea. The four beneficiary villages are clustered together at the southeastern portion of the Siasi Island.
Siasi, with estimated 67 thousand inhabitants depending on fishing, seaweeds farming, corn, abaca, and fruit crops for livelihood. Tinkahan recalls: “I leave home at two in the morning and I get water at six. My children were usually sick because of the dirty water we are using.”
Water borne diseases such as schistosomiasis-a bloodsucking worm that causes injury to the intestines, the bladder and other organs were high, she says.
Diseases like this significantly affect children’s growth and school performance and the work capacity of farmers. Over three million deaths yearly, mainly of children under the age of five, are caused by water related diseases like diarrhea.
Like Tinkahan, Abdural Jimbulan, a 30-year-old father of two school graders from a small village of Duggo, admits that water used to be a rare commodity to them.
He recalls that they were tired because they wake up as early as 2:00 in the morning to fetch water. Villagers here lined up with their buckets around those houses to buy water - to purchase it at about P5 per gallon.
Many times gallons of water had to be brought into the island, shipped by motorized pump boat that could eat up P200 worth of fuel from the neighboring towns in Sulu. Shipping costs each household some P5 a gallon.
Normally, one household consumes 10 gallons everyday used for cooking, drinking and washing.
“I really prayed that my kids experience will end. I want them to focus on their studies,” Jimbulan says. He believes that clean water means healthy crops and healthy people.
Most pressing need resolved After the Alliance for Mindanao Off-grid Renewable Energy (AMORE) program set up the community’s first access to electricity using 50 watt-peak Solar Home System with two streetlights and a system for the mosques in 2004, at least 240 households of Siasi’s villages had been lit up in Ipil, Duhol Tara, North Manta and South Silumpa including the 120 households spread across Sibak-Latud. Everyone rejoiced of the “stroke of luck,” villagers say.
The AMORE, with support from British government, again ventured into another project to address the need for clean and safe water of about 4080 individuals in SiBakLatuD. In July 2007, the community-managed potable water system (PWS)—the community’s first access to safe water, started to benefit at least 680 homes.
The project consist of an intake structure, four impounding reservoirs confined with 7,335 meters pipeline with 21 tap stands.
The Project cost is P2.09M, AMORE partnered with the United States Agency for International Development, Department of Energy, Mirant Philippines Foundation Inc., the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and Winrock International with funding support from the British government.
Britain is committed to increasing expenditure on water related projects, ensuring universal access to safe water and sanitation.
The British government has already supported projects in developing countries, like in the Philippines, a community-based programme integrating water, sanitation and hygiene education in SibakLatud.
“The water here is very good. It’s clean and clear,” says Jimbulan.“You can’t compare them to our traditional wells,” approves Tingkahan.
“Before I had to walk 60 minutes to get water. I can waste a whole day just to fill two gallons, and even then the water is brown.”
Tingkahan adds: “We have clean potable water, our life is much better,” she shares.
“My children, and even myself, used to fall sick because of dirty water. No more complaints of diarrhea because of clean water we are safe.”
Accordingly, the population in the community have increased because due to the presence of the water system. Empowered locales “With less time for fetching water, where the time saved is now replaced by income generating activities, mothers now have ample time to look after the children,” Jimbulan and Tingkahan admit.
The potable water system has increased villagers’ productive time—more than the P .50 centavos and they agreed to pay their community association.
The fund is used to operate and maintain the water system, and to protect and develop the SiBakLatuD watershed to ensure the integrity of the water system.
Herdan Hasinon, who heads the Barangay Renewable Energy and Community Development Associations or BRECDA in Latung says: “With the water system, now, we don’t need to walk for many hours everyday. In just five minutes, we can fill our pots and buckets by just turning a tap.
The AMORE organizes its community partners into BRECDAs and trains them not only to operate and maintain their renewable energy systems but also to pursue other development projects for their communities.
The SiBakLatuD community has actively participated in the overall project development where sense of ownership, commitment and responsibility blossomed and developed with the processes involved.
“Now we know how to do project consultations, orientations, meetings, trainings,” says Hasinon. As beneficiaries, the community was actively involved in all process of development.
“From the conduct of technical survey, project implementation to crafting of policies for Operation and Maintenance we can do these things now.”
Jimbulan, who also serves as Dunggo’s BRECDA chair, exclaims: “Children especially girls have not since collected water. They are now in regular classes in school. Now we have time to enjoy life.”
Now, Hasinon and Jimbulan look after 21 water distribution points from four villages—and are enormously proud of their job.
Many of the residents said that traditional wells where most of them were already abandoned has remained a strong memory of the past.
They also said that incidence of water borne diseases like diarrhea, dysentery, cholera and typhoid has been significantly reduced.
Light and water for the poor The AMORE, which has been energizing communities since 2002, organizes its community partners into BRECDAs and trains them not only to operate and maintain their renewable energy systems but also to pursue other development projects for their communities.
The AMORE has developed a sustainable approach to rural electrification hinged on organizing communities for self-propelled development.
While electricity is its entry point, it realizes that its work cannot end with installing the renewable energy systems.
Tetchie Cruz-Capellan, the AMORE chief of Party, recognizes the important role of water in the community, in achieving socio-economic development of the ARMM, particularly in Siasi town and in raising the standard of living of its people.
According to the United Nations more than a billion people, one in five of the world’s population lack access to safe water. Three billion don’t have basic sanitation. The impact on the poor is almost too severe to imagine,” Capellan shares.
Water borne diseases account for the deaths of one child every 8 seconds. It is a horrific statistic-and 75% of illness treated in some parts of globe was due to bad drinking water.
“I am confident that the completion of the potable water system project, the health, sanitation, and economic living conditions of the 200 marginalized households spread across the four villages will be addressed,” she says.
“I share the communities’ belief that water is Allah’s gift for villagers in SibakLatud. The water brought hopes to the communities. I know it is much easier for mothers to take care of their families and meet their daily needs. Water is helping to revitalize the villages,” she adds.
The SiBakLatuD community is aware of the need to protect the natural resource of the ARMM. “We are hoping that the private sector will partner with BRECDAs role in investing and running community based water systems,” ends Hasinon. (Rosa de Guzman)