Almost 16 million Filipinos still do not have access to safe and clean drinking water, according to last year’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) progress report.
If water is the root of life, then one out of five Filipinos is being deprived of a basic need and a basic human right.
But now, thanks to a successful collaboration between government, private sector, nongovernment organizations (NGOs) and the Millennium Development Goals Fund (MDGF) Philippines, Filipinos will have a chance to do something to change this situation.
Philippine Water Runs (PWR 11), a series of “fun runs” scheduled in major cities around the Philippines, hopes to raise funds which will provide immediate solutions to those families most in need. It also seeks to make people aware of the importance of access to clean water.
The initial run will be in the City of Vigan in Ilocos Sur next month and organizers expect a minimum of 5,000 participants. It will be followed by fun runs in five cities in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.
The program is being spearheaded by Erwin Po of Veepo Global Resources, Ani de los Reyes of E-ventologists and Roger N. Frias in partnership with the MDGF 1919, a program designed to enhance the provision of water services to waterless communities.
The lead agency for the partnership mechanism whose goal is to accelerate achievement of the MDGs is the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda).
“We believe that sustainable provision of access to potable water is not only the government’s responsibility. It works to partner with the private sector through its various policies and advocacies,” says Neda Director Roderick Planta, coordinator for the MDGF 1919.
The MDGF 1919 is one of four achievement-fund programs in the country being funded by the Spanish government and administered by the United Nations.
One such partnership is PWR, born out of common desire of the MDGF 1919 and Veepo Global Inc. to bring water governance and water issues at the forefront of the development agenda, according to Planta.
The race allows Filipinos to take steps to ensure a safer future for residents of 36 municipalities where more than half the population does not have sustainable access to safe drinking water. These are places where the simple act of quenching one’s thirst can lead to illness or death.
These mainly rural communities may be in forest, coastal, upland or farmland areas but all share one thing in common.
“They rely on rivers, streams, wells and water springs for drinking water. These unsafe water sources may contain bacteria, viruses and parasites,” says Kathleen Mangune, chief economic development specialist on the infrastructure staff of Neda.
She adds, “In some extreme cases, we have seen wells where frogs are swimming and people get water from there to drink.”
Proceeds of Philippine Water Runs will be used to provide families with the ability to filter “questionable” water sources into drinkable water for up to three years.
For every 20 race registrants, a needy family will be given and taught to use a Lifestraw water purifier, a mobile unit manufactured by Swiss-based Vestergaard Fransen that requires no batteries, electricity or filters.
Erwin Po, of Vestergaard’s Philippine partner, Veepo Global Resources, explains the bigger picture. “The United Nations established the MDGs to encourage social and economic development by 2015. One of the eight MDGs is to increase access of Filipinos to water. We started with this because water is essential to life,” he says.
Mangune says surveys from the 36 municipalities usually show a high incidence of water-borne diseases, diarrhea and malaria.
She points out, “When you invest in water, you invest in all the Millennium Development Goals. If you have water, your children will be able to go to school and this contributes to MDG2, which is universal primary education. Clean water also helps maternal health and child mortality as diarrhea is one of the top killers of children under age 5.”
Although organizers admit that Lifestraw is not a permanent answer to the need for clean water, it is a stopgap solution which immediately addresses a basic need. It allows families to drink clean water while the government searches for a more long-term solution.
Mangune says a government project will soon be under way (Sagana at Ligtas na Tubig para sa Lahat), which will provide infrastructure, training, necessary tools and mentoring to these communities, but it will take time before all areas can be reached.
The project, to be implemented by the National Antipoverty Commission, Department of the Interior and Local Government, and the Department of Health, will help these communities graduate from being waterless to having at least 50-percent coverage.
The initial goal for the race is to provide clean water to 1,000 families but the organizers plan to continue organizing runs and raising money until government can come in and meet the needs of the 36 communities.
The majority of these communities are in Zamboanga Peninsula and Northern Mindanao.
Mangune says the families in the farthest municipalities will be the first to receive Lifestraw because their location makes them the most difficult for government programs to reach.
“Our partnership with the PWR group is mainly to popularize the issue and bring at least a temporary source of water to remote communities, while the government program is yet to deliver the permanent water-supply infrastructure,” Mangune says.
The initial run in Vigan is scheduled for Sept. 18.
Ilocos Sur Rep. Ryan Luis V. Singson, a principal advocate of PWR, will host the launch of the program. “This part of the MDG is crucial to development of the country. The importance of potable water can’t be denied,” he says.
He says he would like to provide clean water to the people of Ilocos Sur and promote this advocacy on a national level.
Subsequent runs will be in Naga City (October), Quezon City (November), Marikina City (January), Davao City (February) and Cebu City (March). There will be 3k, 5k, and 10k runs in each city and registration fees range from P350 to P500.
Registration will begin two months before each event and details are available on Facebook page “Philippine Water Runs” or http://www.thewaterruns.com.
In addition, race winners will receive up to P100,000 in cash and products.
Ma. Brenna Gamboa, PWR ambassador of goodwill, says, “You can give food and shelter, but it won’t matter without clean water.”
“If you can help people become less sick, you will have more working people who will help the economy improve,” adds Gamboa, who is also Binibining Unibersidad ng Pilipinas 2011.