Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals,communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.
Country Water ActionsPhilippines: Securing the Lives and Landscape of Hidden Paradise
On the seasideoutskirts of Bacolod, aprincipal city of the sugar beltthat stretchesacross theCentralPhilippines, ahuddle of humblehomes called “TinagongParaiso,” or “HiddenParadise,” isproving that poverty is not destiny. “Eight years ago, we were squatters. It was like a swamp.The posts of our houses were submerged in water. Therewere no toilets. People defecated anywhere,” said Dionisiode la Cruz, president of the residents association and atrained community organizer.Year after year, the residents of Hidden Paradise havebeaten the odds that poverty tends to stacks againstpeople. Residents have secured land rights when they werestanding on eviction’s doorstep. The have negotiatedcommunal water connections when there was no suchservice offered by the local utility. They have built their ownsanitation and drainage systems when the government didnot. “This was not just given to us,” said Elvira Batarilan, anelder in the community. “We had to fight for it.”
SETTLING FOR NOTHING LESS
By most standards, Hidden Paradise is still a humblecommunity. Yet it sits in striking contrast to a neighboringcommunity, Riverside.Riverside is a vision of the typical squatter area that dotsthe landscape of the developing world. Homes andwalkways sink in the polluted water that lingers after thelatest flood. Makeshift toilets hang over stagnant poolssurrounding the rickety homes. Residents live with healthrisks around every corner, no safe water supply in sight andno legal right to be there at all, even though many havemanaged to stay for years.Riverside is what Hidden Paradise was 10 years ago. Whatmade the difference? “What we did was organize ourselves, group together so wecould negotiate with the landowner,” de la Cruz said.The landowner, Mr. Gary Acuna, had entered negotiationswith a developer wanting to build a supermarket where theHidden Paradise residents were living. Eviction was eminent.Acuna told ADB that not even a court order or monetarycompensation could convince the squatters to leave hisfamily's land. “My dad had a hard time and had at somepoint ordered the police to help in the eviction,” he said.The residents prevailed, though, and obtained a title to asmall corner of the land, which they evenly divided into 50square meter plots for each family. Still being swampy area,Acuna even filled the land to help mitigate floods.
After securing land rights, Hidden Paradise residents turnedtheir attention to the next seemingly impossible task—getting a clean water supply from the Bacolod City WaterAuthority (BACIWA).A number of roadblocks were visible. They had no waterinfrastructure and no money to build one. BACIWA onlymakes connections to individual households, which cost amonth’s salary for most Hidden Paradise residents.Once again, they beat the odds. With a loan from a localnongovernment organization to finance the water supplyinfrastructure, residents laid the pipes and tap standsthemselves. They applied to BACIWA and reached anagreement for a communal connection. BACIWA evenoffered them the basic household tariff rather than thehigher rate for large water consumers.Residents have taken the initiative to install toilets withseptic tanks. Today, almost 85 percent of households haveseptic tanks.The community also covered the muddy lanes with concreteand installed gutters that line the maze of narrow publicwalkways. “This drainage system should have been theresponsibility of the local government. But we are the oneswho found the money for this,” de la Cruz said.