In the Philippines, New Water Sources Bring New Opportunities

In communities where water is hard to come by, communal water pumps offer everything from drinking water to greater food security.



Community members watch a newly installed water pump at work. (Photo courtesy of FLDP GeEx Development Community Foundation)
Community members watch a newly installed water pump at work. (Photo courtesy of FLDP GeEx Development Community Foundation)

For millions of people in communities facing the Pacific Ocean, the official start of the rainy season is a warning bell: Time to prepare for stronger rains and tropical storms.

Approximately 20 tropical storms enter the Philippines annually. At least six out of 20 are expected to make landfall, pummeling communities specifically in the east and in northern Luzon.

But for some, the rainy season is a sign of hope, not of warning.

Good handwashing practices, promoted by the World Health Organization and the Philippine Department of Health, are key to fighting the spread of Covid-19.

But what if there is no water? How can you keep your hands clean when you turn on the tap and nothing flows?

Water shortage is not a new problem in the Philippines. In 2019, the WHO reported that at least one out of 10 people in the country still do not have access to high-quality water sources.

During summer, and especially when an El Niño is occurring, it is almost impossible to bathe daily. It’s almost expected that water won’t flow during the day. Many urban households wake up in the middle of the night, when running water is available, to store it in drums and pails.

But there are also nights when nothing really flows.

When not even a drop comes out of the faucet, that means no bathing, no dishwashing, no laundry – perhaps even no cooking. Daily needs will need to be met elsewhere.

The villages of Pilig Alto and Pilig Abajo, in the landlocked municipality of Cabagan on the island of Luzon, don’t have easy access to water. Residents have to fetch water for daily use from distant sources, whether riverbanks or other communities with a more reliable water supply.

When the low-lying villages are flooded, their potable water is contaminated. And when the weather is dry, there’s little to be had.

Direct Relief is helping to augment the water supply for these communities by providing communal water pumps – part of an ongoing effort to improve health in the Philippines. The aid was made possible through the work of the FLDP GeEx Community Development Foundation, an NGO focused on serving poor communities in northern Luzon.

Each water station will benefit at least 30 families.

A newly installed water pump. (Direct Relief photo)
A newly installed water pump. (Photo courtesy of FLDP GeEx Development Community Foundation)

The pumps are designed to be operated by hand – a necessity in areas where clean water is available but electricity is an unavailable or unaffordable commodity.

In Pilig Alto and Pilig Abajo, the pumps are busy from 5:00 or 6:00 am, as people prepare for their daily activities. Weekends bring a stream of people, as families do their laundry and household cleaning.

Cabagan is part of the larger province of Isabela, where food security is frequently a problem. A training and livelihood center in the province’s city of Ilagan aims to change that, teaching community members to earn livelihoods in agriculture or handicrafts.

Now, a 1.5-horsepower water pump will power the center and provide local communities with water for their daily needs.

“It isn’t only health that Covid-19 threatens. For over three months now, food security is becoming an even more pressing issue,” said Camille Marasigan, of the FLDP GeEx Development Community Foundation. “We are hoping that the livelihood facility will successfully generate farm produce and enable us to increase potential sources of food resources.”

And as the country continues to battle the pandemic, residents of communities who have received a water pump will be reliably able to wash their hands.

Direct Relief has provided more than $40 million in medical aid to the Philippines since 2010. Recently, to bolster the country’s Covid-19 response, the organization provided ventilators and oxygen concentrators, along with a $57,000 emergency grant. 

Through its strong partnership with the ASEAN Coordinating Center for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management, Direct Relief has also sent a range of disaster preparedness supplies to the ASEAN stockpile in Manila. 

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