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San Miguel Island people struggling to get the earth’s precious liquid due to El Niño

HACIENDA, SAN MIGUEL ISLAND---While many Filipinos in urban areas in the country are enjoying and having an unhampered water supply in their houses, the people of San Miguel Island, Tabaco City is in trouble and struggling to get the earth’s precious liquid due to erratic climate here.

For 35-year-old father of five children Jason Burac,of Sitio Malictay, Hacienda, San Miguel Island in Tabaco City a single drop of water is as precious as gold and should not be wasted as aquifers and water wells are drying up due to prolong El Niño phenomenon here.

At 1:30 am, Jason woke up to get the earth’s precious liquid at Pahuladan well some 20 to 25-minutes boat ride from his home.

Barefoot and wearing flashlight on his head, at 2:00 a.m. Jason walks some 150 meters from his home to the shore carrying several empty water containers with a furl five-meter black hose.

After gathering eight empty water containers from his home to the shoreline, he loads it to his motorized service boat and headed to Pahuladan aquifer along with his fellow villager Richie Bobiles, 22.

Jason and Richie are both catching up the high tide episode using individual motorized boats with a capacity of eight to 10 persons, enough to transport several big containers filled with water enough for their daily water requirements.

Pahuladan aquifer is a shallow well surrounded by trees located at the rocky water’s-edge shore portion of the nearby village of Hacienda that could be reached through motorized boats or banca using paddle but doing so will take about 45 minutes to an hour or even longer here.

Pahuladan water well is one of the few surviving aquifers producing the earth’s precious fluid and providing water in San Miguel Island with a population of 13,116 based on 2015 census.

Almost all water wells in the island dried up since the peak up El Niño in February todate this year due to erratic weather condition, Jason said.

“Salamat ta nagbisita ka sa lugar me, nahiling mo ang kamagtakan kan mga taga isla. Dipisilon ang tubig mi digdi ngonian ta grabe ang tag-init. Halos naghurubas na gabos na bubon buda burabod. Nag-aaragawan kami sa tubig. Dai na halos nagkakaraturog, makaharok sana. Dai lamang ki politiko na nagrereparo buda nagtatabang kan problema mi sa tubig. Baad lamang sa paagi mo, maaraman kan mga politiko asin kan gobierno an pangangaipo mi buda matabangan kaming mga taga isla kan problema sa tubig,” (Thank you for visiting our place. At least, you’ve seen our situation, the condition of the islanders how difficult it was. Almost all water sources in our place dried up due to prolong drought. Very difficult without water. We’re enduring five months of sleepless nights and almost fighting for water. We’re hoping that through you, politicians and the government will know our plight for them to respond our needs on water shortage,” Jason lamented.

The island of San Miguel is under the jurisdiction of Tabaco City comprises five barangays such as Angas, Hacienda, Rawis, Sagurong and Visita. Hacienda has the biggest polulations with 5,655, Rawis, 1,516, Sagurong with 2,921, Visita with 1, 647 and Angas with 1,377 based on 2015 Census.

This reporter followed through Jason and Richie’s journey to the sea at 2:00 a.m. in an effort to see the villagers’ plight under the erratic weather condition here.

After 20-minute or so boat rides in the dark, Jason and Richie finally reached Pahuladan aquifer. Luckily, Jason and Richie are the first to arrive in the area.

Jason immediately put the hose to the water well to fill up his eight empty water containers while Richie uses improvised “tabo” with nylon ties to fill up six empty water containers.

Few minutes after their arrival at Pahuladan, another man with flashlight on his head riding in a smaller banca paddling so hard due to stronger sea current to get through the area.

He waited patiently at the edge of a shore until Jason and Richie filled up all their water containers. But by the time Jason and Richie finished off filling up their water containers, the Pahuladan water well was ran out of water.

Jerwin Brutas, 29, also of Sitio Malictay waited for several hours to replenish the Pahuladan well after the stock fluid was completely amassed by Jason and Richie. After an hour or so, Jason and Richie sail back to the sea at 4:00 am heading back to their respective houses.

“We’re lucky because we were able to came early and stored water even though quite sleepy. At 5:00 a.m. many of our villagers will be there to fetch water but they could not get as many as they can like us,” he said. The islanders’ plight and sacrifices even aggravated following the opening of classes here. Jason said from sunup to sundown, a long queue of the people from San Miguel Island carrying with empty water containers are waiting until eleventh hour just to get water in the remaining aquifers producing liquid under erratic weather here.

Though almost all water wells and aquifers in San Miguel Island are drying up, there are few sources of aquifers still surviving under the impact of El Niño, Freddie Burce, a resident of Barangay Hacienda, San Miguel Island and chairman of the Asosasyon kan Conservanistang Paraoma asin Parasira (Association of Conservationist Farmers and Fishers) here.

Burce said that the “Nagmuri acquifer” one of the few surviving water source can be developed through the help of technology and government so San Miguel can have a water system potential for home use.

Nagmuri aquifer is located in the mountain’s cliff where the people of San Miguel put up a bamboo called “sagurong” (pipe) to allow the water flow on the rocky shore to let the public get the earth’s precious liquid here for free.

Nagmuri aquifer is providing water to the people of San Miguel Island including the neighboring island of Cagraray specifically the residents located in the western portion facing San Miguel.

San Miguel and Cagraray Island are both located in the Lagunoy Gulf facing and the last frontier in the Pacific Ocean facing water shortage due to drought. For the islanders to get the earth’s precious liquid, they need to take a motorized boat daylight and night times here.

To ease the burden of the people of San Miguel Island, Mayor Krisel Lagman-Luistro of Tabaco City said that the resident of San Miguel can get water in Tabaco mainland for free until the El Niño is over.

But the people of San Miguel Island said that they need a sustainable water source in the island if Nagmuri source will be developed through the help of new technology and preserving the remaining forest of the island.

Arnel Garcia, regional director of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in Bicol said that even without the dry spell, about 2.5 million Filipinos do not have access to safe drinking water.

In Bicol, 187, 673 people do not have safe drinking water and 30 percent of more than 5 million Bicolanos get water from dug wells.

But the dug wells specifically in the islands of San Miguel in Tabaco City, Cagraray Island in Bacacay Albay, Batan in Island town of Rapu-Rapu dried up following the prolonging impact of El Nino.

These alarming figures come from “Listahanan” or the National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction (NHTS-PR) of the DSWD.

For the entire country, Masbate, Camarines Sur and Albay had the highest number of households without access to safe drinking water.

“Water is one of the most important substances on earth. It is a lifeline that bathes and feeds us. Having safe drinking water is essential to humans and other life forms,” Garcia said.

Ako Bicol Partylist Representative Alfredo Garbin told Rappler that their party will prioritize to address the water problem in the country specifically in the countryside in the 18th congress.

“Our founder and chairman Elizaldy “Zaldy” S. Co priority agenda in the 18th Congress is to give preference on water sustainability because in the upcoming decades this will be our biggest problem with climate change.

“Water shortage will be our biggest problem in the coming decades not only in Philippines but in the entire world. This could be the most expensive and even lead to possible chaos in the global scenario if we don’t do any solution and action today,” Garbin said.

The United Nations (UN) high-level panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda has indicated that 2.5 billion people do not have access to safe water.

Michel Jarraud, UN Water and World Meteorological Organization secretary general, said during the UN High Panel discussion held at UN University(UNU) in Tokyo, Japan where this reporter is one of the UNU journalism fellow said that “water stress” will continue to haunt the planet 50 years from now.

“We need to have new technology. Research and development is the key element of addressing poverty, water and energy challenges,” Jarraud said. (Rhaydz B. Barcia)

Note: This story is produce and supported by Internews Europe in the framework of the Internews Environmental Journalism Network (EJN) Asia Pacific 2017-2021.

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