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DPWH OKs P200 M for Bicol waterless villages

The plights of the waterless communities in the Bicol region specifically in Albay province will be addressed after the government approved the release of P200 million budget for community water systems, Ako Bicol (AKB) partylist Rep. Elizaldy S. Co said.

Co said that the water system project in waterless communities in the region particularly in Cagraray and San Miguel Islands, both in Albay, whose residents get water from other places using motorized boats will be prioritized.

The Duterte administration, according to Co, has approved the release for the water project as vital in the government’s fight against coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re very lucky that the government understands that water is essential specifically that we are experiencing a pandemic. Actually their policy is 85 percent of all funds for capital outlay for 2020 infrastructure should be used for Covid,” he said.

WATER SCARCITY. A resident of Barangay Cabasan, Cagraray Island in Bacacay town gets water from an aquifer. She needs to walk for over a kilometer just to get drinking water as her village has no adequate potable water supply. Rhaydz B. Barcia

“But we appeal that the budget for the water system should be released without cuts so we can proceed with the water system projects in waterless communities in Bicol, particularly in Albay with problematic water sources in the islands of Cagraray, San Miguel and Rapu-Rapu,” he said.

Co said that the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) released the P200 million budget for a water system project in Barangay Cabasan in Cagraray Island, Bacacay town and Barangay Rawis in San Miguel Island, whose residents are facing water shortage.

“We’re very thankful that our request is approved and the P200 million budget is ready for release. Probably we can start the government’s water system project this year or early next year,” he said.

It will be recalled that the AKB allocated up to P200 million in 2020 to serve the waterless communities in Bicol, most of them in 4 islands of Albay province.

The government through the AKB partylist allotted P200 million budget after a story written by this reporter last year described the struggle of the islanders to get daily drinking water.

The story was produced with the support of Internews Europe in the framework of the Internews Environmental Journalism Network (EJN) Asia Pacific 2017-2021.

Last year, residents of San Miguel and Cagraray Islands endured eight months without water supply because almost all of its water wells had dried up due to erratic weather conditions.

They got water from the Pahuladan aquifer, a shallow well surrounded by trees located in the village of Hacienda, which they could only reach through a boat ride.

Freddie Burce, a resident of Barangay Hacienda and the chairman of the Asosasyon kan Conservanistang Paraoma asin Parasira (Association of Conservationist Farmers and Fishers), said that the Nagmuri acquifer, one of the few surviving water sources can be developed with the help of the government and some technology.

Nagmuri aquifer is located on a mountain cliff, where the people of San Miguel put up a bamboo called “sagurong” (pipe) to allow the water to flow.

The water shortage in San Miguel Island is also being experienced in the neighboring islands of Cagraray, Batan and Rapu-Rapu.

To address the water problem in these areas, the AKB allotted P200 million wherein some P7.5 million is allocated for Barangay Cabasan to provide a level 2 water system to households, including government facilities, such as the Cagraray District Hospital.

Similarly, the partlist will also infuse P7.5 million for a level 2 water system in Barangay Hacienda, San Miguel Island, to provide water service to the community and its neighboring villages.

Co said level 2 water systems will be put up in 24 waterless communities – many of them in San Miguel, Cagraray, Batan, and Rapu-Rapu in Albay, which this reporter has reported as waterless areas in Albay for seven to eight months in 2019 following the El Niño phenomenon.

Co lauded this reporter’s story, which detailed the people’s struggle by using motorized boats just to get drinking water every day.

“Women trek for several kilometers to get drinking water, and are sometimes victimized or raped for walking in the wee hours,” Co said in an interview during the turnover of two level 1 water systems in the villages of Mayon and Alobo in Daraga town last year.

The AKB according to Co is shifting its priority programs to help the region meet the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals. One of those goals is to provide water to underserved barangays.

“Finally we can start the project for targeted and problematic areas without enough source of clean and potable water. But the Sunwest Foundation will still continue providing level 1 water systems, while we are waiting for the budget to put up the level 2 water facilities so that clean drinking water will finally flow in the faucets of our kababayans without water,” Co said.

The UN high-level panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda says 2.5 billion people do not have access to safe drinking 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 was one of the UNU 2015 journalism fellows, said that “water stress” will continue to haunt the planet 50 years from now.

Jarraud said that new technology research and development is the key element of addressing poverty, water and energy challenges across the world.

Currently, the AKB and the Sunwest Foundation of the Sunwest Group of Companies are providing water to waterless communities through the foundation budget.

Co also cited the Pulse Asia survey showing that “the basic problem of the people is that 80 to 90 percent go without potable drinking water. Upland areas with fewer residents are given less priority by water districts because they are considered a missionary route without income,” the lawmaker said.

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.

Based on the “Listahanan” or the National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction of the DSWD, 187,673 people in Bicol do not have safe drinking water, and 30 percent or more than 5 million Bicolanos get water from dug wells.

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.

The provinces of Masbate, Camarines Sur, and Albay had the highest number of households without access to safe drinking water, the DSWD said.

Garcia said that water is one of the most important substances on earth as it is a lifeline that bathes and feeds the people. He said that having safe drinking water is essential to humans and other life forms.

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