MANILA, JUNE 27, 2006
(STAR) By Katherine Adraneda - The World Bank (WB) has voiced alarm over the Philippines’ poor sanitation and sewerage infrastructure, owing to under-investment in the sector and ineffective implementation of existing laws that were supposed to address the sanitation and sewerage problems of the country.

In his report titled "The Forgotten Sector: Sanitation and Sewerage in the Philippines," Ben Eijbergen, infrastructure sector coordinator of the WB office in Manila, said the Philippines ranked third-worst among 18 selected Asian cities in terms of sewerage access since only about four percent of the population had access to sewerage in 2000 while access to sewerage network was almost non-existent outside Metro Manila.

Manila is preceded by Vientiane and Jakarta while Hong Kong and Osaka were recorded to have 100-percent sewerage access.

The data were sourced from an Asian Development Bank (ADB) study titled "Water in Asian Cities: Utilities Performance and Society Views," and also included in a WB study in 2005 titled "Philippines: Meeting Infrastructure Challenges."

Eijbergen pointed out that only three percent of the country’s annual total investment in water supply goes to sanitation and sewerage and that most of these investments are concentrated in rich subdivisions and commercial and industrial establishments.

He said that investment in sanitation from 1999 to 2003 amounted only to about $90 million, or merely a third of the investments in water supply during the period.

"There was a major investment or great focus in delivery of clean water, but how about waste water and sanitation?" asked Eijbergen during a press conference on the Philippine Sanitation Summit 2006 at the Linden Suites yesterday.

"Sanitation and sewerage investment (is) usually lumped with water supply," he also said.

Eijbergen defined sanitation as intervention, usually through construction of facilities such as latrines, to improve management of excreta or onsite facilities such as toilets and septic tanks. Sewerage, meanwhile, is the entire system of wastewater collection, treatment and disposal, and pipe networks to offsite treatment and disposal, he explained.

"Indiscriminate disposal of wastewater is one main reason for degradation of water quality," he pointed out.

Based on the WB 2005 study, the Philippines will need to exert key efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of increasing formal access to water supply to 90 percent by 2010.

For sanitation and solid waste, however, the same study noted that "matters are even worse."

Of the vast majority of households with septic tanks, only about three percent in mostly rural onsite treatment and disposal facilities were acceptable, the study said.

"Effluent from ubiquitous septic tanks usually drains into uncovered drainage systems, which leaves the majority of the population across the country exposed to raw sewage," it stated.

Moreover, the WB report said that solid waste collection in the country is ineffective, and that large quantities of such waste often accumulate and block drainage canals and thus exacerbate public health problems.

It further noted that even when the solid waste is collected, improper disposal practices for both septic tank sludge and solid waste contribute to severe environmental degradation of water bodies throughout the Philippines, and undermine economic activity and growth in various sectors, including tourism.

As a result, contaminated drinking water and waterborne diseases remain a prevalent public health concern, accounting for over 500,000 morbidity and 4,200 mortality cases in the country each year.

According to Eijbergen, approximately 31 percent of illnesses monitored in 1996 to 2000 were attributed to waterborne sources, which translates to a P3.3-billion avoidable health cost per year.

Health centers across the country recorded a total of 2,000 cases of diarrhea and 25 deaths caused by poor sanitation almost every day.

Health Undersecretary Ethelyn Nieto said diarrhea is the second cause of morbidity in the country, as intestinal parasitism and malnutrition similarly account for deaths among Filipinos.

Eijbergen said that poor sanitation and sewerage are also responsible for declining fish yields due to sedimentation and silt pollution. The government loses P17 billion a year due to degradation of fisheries environment.

Likewise, Eijbergen said the tourism industry loses about P47 billion each year because of the decline in occupancy due to poor sanitation and sewerage systems.

"The overall economic loss due to water pollution is about $1.3 billion a year," Eijbergen stressed.

Thus, in order to address the issue, Eijbergen said the country should invest a total of P211.21 billion for a 10-year program to upgrade sanitation and sewerage programs.

A sanitation and sewerage program outlined for 2005 to 2015 would include investments amounting to P158.40 billion to cover urban areas, and P52.81 billion to cover the provinces.

"An investment of P18 billion per year in operating costs is needed to tackle the situation," Eijbergen said.

According to government information, in rural areas, almost 40 percent of households lack access to sanitation facilities while between 50 to 60 percent of households and establishments have "extremely low" sanitation coverage in over 10 primary cities nationwide.

Sewerage and wastewater management in cities is considered "even worse" since, of the 115 cities, only nine have collection systems, each serving less than 10 percent of the city, the government data added.

On July 5 and 6, the USAID, the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System and other environmental advocates will sponsor the Philippine Sanitation Summit 2006 at the Heritage Hotel to raise the profile of sanitation and hygiene as a priority development sector in the country.

The meeting likewise aims to generate commitment of resources from the participating institutions, and to strengthen leadership and advocacy for improved sanitation and hygiene in the Philippines.

"The lack of leadership, the absence of an identified authority on sanitation, low priority given to it by the national and local government, low demand due to inadequate information on appropriate sanitation practices, and under-investment and lack of financing are the main issues here," Eijbergen noted.

"The government should reinforce public awareness campaigns regarding the impact of inadequate sanitation and sewerage; review and clarify accountability for planning, construction, operations and regulation of sanitation and sewerage infrastructure; assist the local government and utilities to develop strategies; and allocate funding in order to address the problem and advance sanitation and sewerage programs," he added.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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