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NEWS: The right to water debate in the Philippines

Maria Lourdes Tabios Nuera

Maria Lourdes Tabios Nuera

GMA News in the Philippines reports, “While living only a few steps away from two of Metro Manila’s major water treatment plants, sari-sari storeowner Edralin Cartel wouldn’t dare let her family drink water from the tap. The 29-year-old mother has reason to be concerned. Only last year, her 7-year-old daughter Beverly contracted amoebiasis, a food and water-borne disease, supposedly from contaminated water in school. …Since then, Cartel has resorted to buying five-gallon jugs of purified water from a nearby refilling station for her family of three, at P35 per jug once every two weeks. (This is) on top of the P300 that she has to shell out every month to pay for the water bills charged by a government-regulated water service. (While the Cartel family can afford this), it is not the same story, however, for some 64,400 families in Metro Manila who live below the poverty line.”

“Jose Carmelo Gendrano, deputy executive director of the Philippine Center for Water Sanitation, (points out) that the United Nations in a resolution recently declared the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right. The resolution, which was adopted in 2010, acknowledges ‘the importance of equitable, safe, and clean drinking water and sanitation as an integral component of the realization of all human rights.’ It is thus the government’s duty to provide the public with safe water to drink, Gendrano says. He notes that the government could do this in two ways: through direct provision or through regulation. …Money is needed to facilitate the flow of water from watersheds, to collect it in dams, to treat it, to store it in reservoirs, and then to distribute it through pipe networks, says Gendrano. Government can subsidize it. But if it chooses to do so, it will have to get its funds from taxpayers. Gendrano says another option is for the government to tap private companies to treat and distribute clean drinking water, among other things.”

“UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon affirms this principle in his remarks at the UN General Assembly plenary meeting on the human right to water and sanitation in July. ‘Let us be clear: a right to water and sanitation does not mean that water should be free. Rather, it means that water and sanitation services should be affordable and available for all, and that States must do everything in their power to make this happen,’ Ban says.”

But, as noted in a campaign blog this past May, Maria Lourdes Tabios Nuera, a (Philippines-based) campaigner for Jubilee South-Asia/Pacific Movement on Debt and Development, has said privatization has led to reduced access for marginalised and impoverished communities and the violation of the human right to water. She said, “We are demanding that the United Nations declaration on the right to water should be incorporated into national legislation. Control over water resources and services must be in the public domain and should not be privatised. Water sources must be shared equitably by all and need to be protected and managed properly, democratically and sustainably.”

Agence France Presse reported this past March that, “More than one billion urban residents will face serious water shortages by 2050 as climate change worsens effects of urbanization (according to a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)… The study found that under current urbanization trends, by mid-century some 993 million city dwellers will live with less than 100 litres (26 gallons) each day of water each — roughly the amount that fills a personal bathtub — which authors considered the daily minimum. Adding on the impact of climate change, an additional 100 million people will lack what they need for drinking, cooking, cleaning, bathing and toilet use.” That article noted that Manila is forecast to face a water crunch. “The study said there would be a need for international funding to help poorer nations ‘to ensure that urban residents can enjoy their fundamental right to adequate drinking water.’”

The full GMA article can be read at http://www.gmanews.tv/story/232187/specialreports/dirty-tap-water-forces-poor-to-pay-more. The blog with Maria Lourdes Tabios Nuera’s comments can be read at http://canadians.org/blog/?p=6842. The Agence France Presse article is at http://canadians.org/blog/?p=6251.