The human right to water
The UN General Assembly declared in a July 2010 resolution that “safe and clean drinking water and sanitation [is] a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.”
The UN Human Rights Council also adopted a resolution in 2011 stating that access to safe drinking water and sanitation is “a human right: a right to life and to human dignity.”
These declarations affirm everyone’s right to “sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses,” such as for drinking, washing of clothes, food preparation and household and personal sanitation.
A person needs between 50 and 100 liters of water a day, according to World Health Organization estimates, to ensure that his or her most basic personal and health needs are met. For these needs to be met, the United Nations said water supply and sanitation facilities for everyone “must be continuous and sufficient for personal and domestic uses.”
The United Nations puts the responsibility of providing water and sanitation on governments, given that access to water and sanitation is a “legal entitlement, rather than a commodity or service provided on a charitable basis.”
However, this fundamental human right to water appears to be of little consequence in Metro Manila, where millions of residents in many communities are once again enduring long hours without it.
Without so much a say-so from the two giant water concessionaires, taps ran dry last week. Nothing could be done except to grin and bear the announcement by Manila Water Co. Inc. and Maynilad Water Services Inc. that, henceforth, until the heavens decide to send rains over the dams servicing the Metro’s water needs, Metro Manila must contend with water service interruptions lasting from 12 to 17, and even 20 hours a day.
Just in March, Metro Manila already felt like a battle zone, with people spending sleepless nights and wasting whole days to queue for water rationing from fire trucks. In Mandaluyong, some condominium residents were forced to draw water from the swimming pool.
A report in this paper also described how a community rushed out in a frenzy to meet a fire truck, as if it was a fight for survival.
“I had to stop working because all my time is spent waiting here,” Nersia Aranas, resident of Barangay Barangka Drive in Mandaluyong, said in the same report.
Another resident, Edna Elamparo, rued that fire trucks that came to their area, often at odd hours, could not even provide potable water.
“In my 66 years, there had been times when water pressure was weak, but it was never completely gone. Unlike now — we are like beggars. We would consider using even dirty water.”
Lack of vision and long-term planning and systemic neglect have plagued the national agencies responsible for securing the water needs of Metro Manila’s 12 million or so and ever expanding population.
It is not exactly a secret that Ipo, Angat and La Mesa dams supplying the Metro’s water requirements are limited, dependent on rain and affected by weather-related and manmade calamities. It is not a secret that El Niño and climate change have wreaked havoc on water resources, farming and the safety of communities in vulnerable countries like the Philippines.
There has always been science to guide policymaking and the allocation of public expenditures — if only the government paid more heed to it.
Yet the problem persists, with the water concessionaires, the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, the National Water Resources Board, etc. all blaming the crisis on dam water going below critical levels.
Such neglect and indifference are compounded by the lack of transparency and accountability in discussing with the public not only the extent of the water crisis, but how the precious resource is allocated across the various communities in the metro.
These past days, consumers have taken to venting that while the concessionaires have issued advisories on water service interruptions, the warnings were not timely enough (before the taps ran dry) or turned out to be inaccurate (the flow didn’t return on the announced schedule).
What people in Metro Manila and the affected provinces need is simple: that all these well-funded government agencies and the private water concessionaires reaping billions of pesos in profit get their act together and deliver on their responsibility to provide citizens with water. That is their job — and, for the people, their basic human right.
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