Accessible and safe water for all

by: Jimilyn O. Gerobin

The 2014 Annual Poverty Indicators Survey (APIS) shows that almost 86% of the 22 million families in the Philippines have access to safe water. The remaining 14% percent use unsafe water from unreliable water sources, like shallow wells. The national average of families with access to safe water ranges from 85 to 99%. In Region IV-A, almost 91% of families have access to safe water.

Barangay Kabulusan is situated in the western part of Pakil, Laguna. The barangay has a popualation of 3,683 based on the 2014 Department of Health (DOH) projected population. Out of 832 households, only 730 have access to safe water. The remaining 102 households are either getting unsafe water from their own shallow well or sharing water source with other households.

Before, the Barangay Council of Kabulusan built shallow wells (poso) in some areas within the barangay. The shallow wells are then being used by community members who do not have access to reliable water sources. Some of the shallow wells are still being used by the community members today. Residents near those shallow wells get to use it however; they are unaware if the water source is potable.

Improvements in water, sanitation, and hygiene help boost overall health. Access to clean water will prevent waterborne diseases. Also, access to basic sanitation like toilets will prevent the spread of infection and water contamination from human waste. In Kabulusan, there are still areas where residents have no access to both safe water and toilets.

Pakil Water District (Pakwad) serves almost 300 households in the barangay. According to Roderick Golpe, administrative services aide of Pakwad (Kabulusan Extension), about 36% or 300 out of 832 households in Kabulusan already have water connection. However, the remaining 64% or 532 households still do not have water connection and are probably relying on shallow wells as source of drinking water. According to some consumers, water consumption costs them 200 to 300 pesos monthly depending on the volume.

Aside from fishing, paper mache is also a source of income for many families in Barangay Kabulusan. However, incomes from both sources are still not enough to provide for every family’s needs. Due to this, having water connection from the water district or improving sanitation facility like toilets is not their priority. Many families in Kabulusan rely on microfinance agencies like Tulay sa Pag-unlad, Inc. (TSPI) for additional business capital, educational expenses of their children, housing, health and insurance, and other development loans.

Anafe Rey has been a member of TSPI for seven years. TSPI is a Christian microfinance non-government organization that aims to help individuals and communities by lending additional capital to small business entrepreneurs. Last November, TSPI launched another program that promotes sanitation among its members. Under Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) program, TSPI members can borrow money to build their own toilet and to have a safe water source through the water district.

WASH promotes development of communities through improved access to water, sanitation and hygiene.

Barriers to Safe Water 
Safe water is already accessible in Kabulusan through Pakwad. Although several households already have water connection, there are still more who do not. Among those are some TSPI members like Anafe. For her, having water connection in the household is a big help when doing household chores. Although she expressed her need of water source for her family, she cannot apply for water connection due to inadequate financial means.

Anafe’s desire to have her own water connection is hindered by the current financial situation of her family. Anafe has four kids. Her husband works in a metal crafts business and sometimes, she sells fruits that are available in their area. According to her, their only source of water is a shared shallow well.

Many residents of barangay Kabulusan seldom buy mineral water since it also adds to their expenses. Aside from that, they think that their source of water is safe since they have been using it for a long time now. But, they are also aware that unsafe water sources can cause waterborne diseases such as diarrhea and amoebiasis.

“Pero maganda din naman ang poso. Kaya lang yun nga, di maiiwasan na makakuha ng sakit tsaka nawawalan na ng tubig, di kagaya ng dati na napakalakas,” said Anafe Rey.

Another reason is loan prioritization of TSPI members. Since most of them have shallow wells and toilets, they said that they would choose to avail general or multi-purpose loan as compared to WASH loan. Some members use these loans to cover their family’s daily expenses. Some for their businesses and some for their children’s school expenses.

Also, members who still have existing loans want to finish paying it first before getting another. According to Anafe, given their income, it will be difficult on her part if she will avail WASH loan while still paying for her previous loan. Since Anafe’s general loan will not be paid until January, she decided not to avail WASH loan right away and wait until her previous loan is fully paid.

Aside from financial concerns and loan prioritization, another reason is the community members’ opposing views about the safety of water distributed by the water district. “Sabi din kasi nila hindi daw pwedeng inumin, marumi, masyadong machlorine. Yung may inihahalo sa tubig,” said Amelita Gonzales, a TSPI member.

In addition, Eulalia Duran, another TSPI member said, “Siguro yung dahilan kaya hindi okey yung tubig, yung pwesto na pinagkukunan nila hindi maganda.”

But, some community members think that having water connection is helpful. “.. kasi mas maalwan. Lalo na sa paglalaba, kasi basta ka na lang gaganon (pipihit) kasi pag bomba, nakakangalay,” said Anafe Rey, a TSPI member who wishes to have their own water connection from the water district. “Naranasan pala namin pagka summer, kasi sa dami na din saka yung tagtuyot talaga, nagkakati na kami. Nawawalan ng tubig yung poso tapos sinasalinan para siya magkatubig”, Anafe added.

Power supply is also another problem. Some community members are complaining about inadequate water supply from the water district. According to them, some areas in Kabulusan only have water supply during the day and only those households connected to the mainline have regular water supply.

Pakil Water District is also aware of power supply problem in Kabulusan. “Madalas kasi dito brownout. Kaya ito (generator) ginagamit namin para may supply sila kahit na walang kuryente.” Said Golpe. He also explained why some areas in Kabulusan experiences shortage in water supply. “ Kasi ito, kumukuha ‘to sa bukal. Umaasa lang tayo sa source. Pagka mahina ang source, siyempre yung level ng tubig ay mababa kaya hindi kayang suplayan lahat,” he added.

Local Sanitation Initiatives
Sanitation initiatives are also implemented in Kabulusan to ensure the health of its citizens. Livestock rising is prohibited in the community. The community members are no longer allowed to operate small and large scale swine, poultry, and other livestock farms because of the wastes it can generate. Wastes from farms, if not properly disposed causes foul odor and may pollute the water. Julieta Botin, Sanitation Inspector 1, from the Office of Health Services, Pakil, Laguna said that before, the Municipal Local Government distributed water pumps to community members.

However, the Local government’s fund is not enough to sustain the project. They tests water samples monthly from shallow wells in the barangays. The water sources are then treated with chlorine to ensure the safety of its users.

As of 2014, according to Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), 9% of families in Region IVA have no access to safe water. Most families comprising this number are from rural areas like barangay Kabulusan. The WASH program of TSPI does not only focuses on giving access to safe water but also to sanitation specifically, toilets since many families in Kabulusan share both water source (poso) and toilets. Although 91% is at par with the national average of 85-99%, the remaining 9% is still cannot be disregarded.

Spread awareness, not the germs: Encouraging people to stop using shared toilets and have their own

by: Rica Mae B. Valencia

“We are one extended family, with my siblings living in a compound. We use one CR. However, I want to have my own CR, not outside the house.” This is the statement of Tomas Bermudez (or Tatay Tom) in an interview regarding the current condition of his family’s sanitation and toilet.

Tom is a client of Tulay sa Pag-unlad, Inc. (TSPI)  and among the hundreds of residents of Barangay Kabulusan in Pakil Laguna who still use shared toilets.

Barangay Kabulusan is the largest and most populated of the 13 barangays of Pakil, Laguna. According to data from the Barangay Environmental Health amd Sanitation for 2014on from the Field Health Services Information System (FHSIS), only 737 out of the 832 households of the barangay have sanitary toilet facility; approximately 100 hundred families have yet to have their own toilet facility and are most likely sharing toilets.

In Libis, the part of the barangay near Laguna de Bay, where most households do not have their own toilet facility, the barangay leadership built a shared public toilet near the shore. This toilet is primarily used by residents around the area. During fiestas and other barangay events, the public toilet is also used by visitors. Considered a public toilet, it can be used by everyone for their toilet and sanitary needs.

However, despite the availability of a public toilet, open defecation is still prevalent in the barangay.

“(Marami pa rin dito ang dumudumi lang sa labas,  Lalo na sa parteng libis, said Eulalia Duran (or Nanay Lali) during an interview. (Many here still practice open defection, especially people living in the Libis part.) 

Problems in using shared toilets

Many problems arise from sharing toilets. In the case of Tatay Tom and his siblings, whose shared toilet is built within the family compound, the waiting time and unsanitary practices of other relatives are main issues. “If there’s someone using the toilet, you will have to wait. “Kapag may nakaupo, mag-antay ka. Tapos, may salaula gumamit, ‘yung mismong bowl ay tinutungtungan. P’wede namang pasalampak eh, The said. (Sometimes there are those who put their feet in the bowl when they could have sat on it.) 

Other problems include petty fights. Nanay Lali and Amelita Gonzales (or Nanay Amelita), shared their knowledge about the experiences of their fellow residents who share a toilet. “Minsan halimbawa, sa dami nilang gumagamit, ‘yung [ibang nahuhuling gumamit], nagagalit kasi madumi ‘yung CR. Tapos minsan pagka ‘yung isa gustong gumamit, may tao ganun. Minsan nag aaway-away sila.” (Sometimes when many individuals are sharing one toilet, the last one to use gets angry because the toilet is already dirty by the time his or her turn comes. And sometimes, the people sharing the toilet get into a fight.)

Another problem is improper construction due to limited space. Shared toilets are usually found outside houses because at least three families usually use it. Some of the shared toilets are located only a few meters from the water source. For instance, the toilet shared by the family of Marina Christe (or Nanay Marina) is located only a few yards outside of their house and a few meters beside their artesian wells or poso. The same placement of shared toilet maybe observed in the toilet shared by the family of Tatay Tom.

Ideally, a household’s toilet septic tank should have a minimum of 25-meter distance from the water source, such as deep wells and artesian wells. According to Julieta Botin, a sanitation inspector at the Pakil Office of Health Services, a toilet’s septic tank should be located deeper and lower than the water source to avoid contamination. Thus, toilets should not be positioned very near or above the water source. However, in most cases, shared toilets found in the barangay are located 5-10 meters from the residents’ water source.

When families use shared toilets, maintaining the structure becomes problematic. Hindi maayos, hindi siya napapaganda,” Nanay Amelita shared. (The shared toilet is not well or properly maintained. It is not being improved.)

Nanay Marina and Tatay Tom aim to improve their own toilet facilities; both have decided to take advantage of the Water, Sanitation, Hygiene (WASH) loan program of TSPI.

Health problems and poor sanitation

Aside from the experienced problems of the residents, sharing toilets also imposes risks to health. The most common causes of diseases are intestinal worms that can enter the body through one’s use of dirty toilets, as confirmed by Botin.

Other common disease associated with unsanitary toilet facilities and contaminated water is amoebiasis, and it manifests through stomachaches, vomiting, and loose bowel movement or LBM. Amoebiasis is the most prevalent water-borne disease in the barangay.

At the national level, 6000 Filipinos die every year due to water-borne related illnesses.

According to Botin, educating residents about risks in using shared toilet facilities can be done through short talks during home visits conducted by health and sanitation staff of the government. Frequent reminders on sanitation are also passed on to residents whenever the Office of Rural Health Services visits people in their homes.

The local government attempts to address the gap in household sanitary toilet facilities by giving of toilet bowl packages to residents. Botin said that the Provincial Health Office supplies the toilet bowls that are in turn distributed among municipalities. Such a supply, however, is limited and cannot accommodate everyone in their lists. In addition, financial constraints also hamper people from constructing their own toilets.

“The problem with that is, even though we give them bowls, if they are financially lacking, then it is senseless,” said Botin. If the cost of building a toilet facility is higher than buying a toilet bowl, then residents think twice of building their own toilet even though toilet bowls are already available.

Lack of capital to build a complete toilet facility is the primary reason identified by the residents behind the lack existing practice of sharing toilets. In addition, they also lack direct access to water, such as water from the faucet supplied by PAKWAD

Possible solutions

In a panel discussion attended by the residents who are also members of TSPI, several ideas emerged based on their own experiences on how to solve problems associated with using shared toilets. One possible solution is, according to Nanay Lali, “Mag-provide ng sari-sariling CR” (each household having its own toilet).

Nanay Amelita, on the other hand, sees the need to urge people to invest in their own toilet facilities. “Ikumbinsi mo ang mga tao na magpagawa ng [sariling toilet]. Tapos, sasabihin naman nila sayo ‘yung problema. Siyempre, sasabihin nila sa’yo ‘yung pampagawa, saan sila kukuha ng pampagawa, mga ganoong bagay.” (Convince people to have their own toilets constructed. But then, tell them that and they will complain as to where they will get money for such a project.)

Tatay Tom and Nanay Marina decided that they would apply for the WASH loan program to build and improve their toilet facilities.