LWUA marks 50 years of securing clean water in PH
BY VINA MEDENILLA
The Manila Times
IN the United Nations World Water Development Report 2023, published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization or Unesco in March 2023, about 2 billion people in the world did not have access to safe drinking water and 3.6 billion lacked access to safely managed sanitation. In the Philippines, a survey by the Social Weather Stations in December 2022 revealed that only 67 percent or an estimated 17 million Filipino households had access to running or piped water. In the opening ceremony of the sixth Edition of the Water Philippines Conference and Exposition in March this year, President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. said the Philippines was facing a water crisis and underscored the pressing need for the government to intensify its efforts to combat it. One of the government’s efforts when it came to water security was the establishment of the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA), a governmentowned and controlled corporation that acted as a funding source to ensure safe, affordable and sustainable water for all Filipinos. LWUA was created under Presidential Decree 198, also referred to as the Provincial Water Utilities Act of 1973, and was signed by the late Ferdinand Marcos Sr. on May 25, 1973. It played a critical role in promoting and supervising the development of water supply systems in provincial cities and municipalities outside Metro Manila. What a water district is Under LWUA, there have been so-called water districts (WD). A WD functioned as a local corporate entity that supervised and administered water supply systems and sanitation systems in one or more provincial cities or municipalities. The establishment of a WD was voluntary, and it followed a rigorous process to ensure compliance with legal standards and requirements. As of this writing, there were about 532 operational local WDs across 648 cities and municipalities throughout the Philippines. In the Sonshine Media Network International or SMNI “Business and Politics” program that is hosted by The Manila Times Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Dante “Klink” Ang 2nd, LWUA Administrator Vicente “Vince” Homer Revil said the institution’s role was to ensure there was sufficient clean water for Filipinos by financing water-related projects of WDs, helping them with the technical and engineering services and making sure that all WDs were compliant with national laws in providing safe and potable water to areas or communities it serves. LWUA, together with the WDs, have served 5.4 million households that was equivalent to roughly 22.3 million individuals so far. There were three levels of water service coverage in the Philippines. Level 1 was the point source such as wells, level 2 was the communal faucet and level 3 was the household connection. Under level 3, LWUA and WDs had extended services to 23 percent of the population, equating to 22.3 million out of 38.3 million residents in the countryside that fell in this category. Loans LWUA positioned itself as the lending institution, equipped with financial, technical and institutional development expertise necessary to ensure a water district’s project generated a return on investment. WDs had access to four loan windows, offered by LWUA. Loan window 1 was for individual household connections and communal faucet projects, focusing on comprehensive development, and repair or rehabilitation of both new and preexisting water supply systems. Projects under loan window 2 included activities related to generating new service connections, watershed management and allocating special loans for emergency purposes. Loan window 3, on the other hand, was open for projects aimed at upgrading water supply infrastructure or facilitating commercial operations. Lastly, loan window 4 was dedicated to initiatives for project development and efficiency improvement. An additional loan window has also been introduced, and it was specially open for financing water district expansion projects, well drilling and water source development. When it came to loan approvals, Revil noted that while LWUA offered support to all water districts, there were limitations on available funds. Consequently, the institution had set priority areas for efficient allocation of resources. LWUA mainly prioritized loans intended for the development of WDs, the expansion of districts’ service coverage, the bolstering of district operations’ viability and the enforcement of WDs’ compliance with the laws. Revil stressed that, in general, the WDs were performing well financially, given that adequate capital was a prerequisite for the establishment, sustainability and expansion of each district. Moreover, LWUA received monthly reports from WDs, allowing the agency to track the districts’ water sources, operational updates and financial performance. Setting standards for long-term success The LWUA administrator went on to explain that LWUA has established standards for WDs to attain profitability and ensure their long-term viability. He said WDs must have sufficient sources of water, must allocate their capital wisely, must have enough transmission lines directly to households, must lessen their nonrevenue water and most importantly, the water they offered must be safe and healthy through conducting proper treatment of their water sources. Revil also mentioned that the government worked toward a watersecure Philippines, drawing inspiration from South Korea’s thriving water system. He said: “[South Korea has] a very strong institution in terms of water development. What they did [was] they focused their resources on five rivers. By focusing on water development [through] building dams, weirs and other catchment basins, they are now able to provide clean water to about 98 percent of the population of South Korea.” Data by the United Nations Children’s Fund or Unicef has also shown that 99.28 percent of South Korea’s population used safely managed drinking water services in 2022. This was what the government envisioned for the Philippines, said Revil. In line with this, he revealed the government planned to optimally develop river basins throughout the country such as the Pampanga river basin in Central Luzon, two other basins in Mindanao, and others in Cagayan and Bicol to ensure water supply. The government also did this to build more water impoundments for proper domestic use of rivers and to boost water security. “We have a lot of river basins in our country. And we have identified a lot of rivers that can be the source of development for our water supply,” Revil added. Water use Water scarcity remained to be a persistent issue in many areas of the Philippines. Some water supplies were still sourced from groundwater or aquifers, particularly in remote areas without access to rivers, lakes and other surface water. Revil further explained: “In our country, we only invest in flood control. We only [view] water as a calamity during rains or as a natural disaster. We do not use it as a resource. It should be a resource for us. [We should] look at how we treat water. When it rains in other countries, they put catchment basins or infrastructure for that to ensure there are reservoirs.” If our water supply came from surface water, President Marcos said, we wouldn’t have to dig wells that negatively impacted our land’s water table, agriculture, infrastructure and more. With this purpose in mind, LWUA made it a point that water in communities outside Metro Manila was transmitted through pipelines, treated and directly served to the households. Water Resources Management Office In his second State of the Nation Address, President Marcos said the government was giving a “special focus” on water security by making sure the water sector’s programs and projects were wellcoordinated, centralized and carried out in a systematic manner. Last April 27, 2023, Marcos also signed Executive Order (EO) 22, which administered the creation of a Water Resources Management Office (WRMO) under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. As stated in the EO, this office was tasked to specifically address the challenges in the management of the country’s water resources brought about by “fragmented water and sanitation sector, increasing demand for water due to population and economic growth, [impact] of climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic, lack of adequate infrastructure leading to uneven distribution of water resources and inconsistent government regulations.” The WRMO carried the responsibility of integrating and harmonizing all government policies, programs and projects of relevant agencies in the water resource sector to ensure availability, accessibility and affordability of water. Attached to this office were government agencies LWUA and its WDs, National Water Resources Board (NWRB), Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, and Laguna Lake Development Authority. Patubig sa Buong Bayan at Mamamayan project In response to the President’s call to focus and heighten efforts on water security, LWUA has recently introduced its Patubig sa Buong Bayan at Mamamayan (PBBM) legacy project. This undertaking was to ensure efficient, sustainable and continuous water services for all Filipinos. In the next 5 years, the PBBM program aimed to complete 738 water supply projects and 43 sanitation projects. This project was primarily built for the expansion of WDs’ service coverage in order to reach more cities or municipalities with no WDs and to operationalize WDs that did not have capacity to sustain their operations. By the end of 2028, Revil said this program was expected to serve over 7.9 million households, marking a 45-percent increase from 5.4 million in 2022. The joint projects of LWUA and WDs were also expected to be a boon to 1.8 million households upon the program’s completion. The PBBM program was also projected to provide safe and affordable drinking water to 670,000 additional households in the coming years. Aside from the PBBM project, LWUA has also launched the Save Water Advocacy earlier this year that aimed to promote water conservation in every household. When asked about the proposed Department of Water, which could possibly duplicate the role of the NWRB, Revil said he was confident that economic managers would study the functions of it. LWUA highlighted its past and recent achievements with an exhibition that marked the start of its 50th anniversary celebration on September 4. The main celebration took place at the Manila Hotel on Sept. 15, 2023.