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Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals, communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.
Philippines: Water and Small Pipes: What a Slum Wants, What a Slum Needs
This idea is simple, inexpensive, quick and adaptable. Small piped water networks are no longer the domain of informal entrepreneurs going where utilities won’t or can’t go— slums. Manila Water Company Inc. has demonstrated the scheme one way, and ADB is helping it and other utilities demonstrate the scheme in a variety of other ways. Small pipes and flexible payment options are the future of connections. So just how big does small deliver? METERS: CHANGE STARTS HERE For three weeks, Razel Espayos dug up the ground around his home along the Manggahan Floodway in Metro Manila. Somewhere, a pipe was leaking. There was no muddy ground to hint at the trouble spot, but he knew there was a leak somewhere—his meter told him so. Two years ago, he never would have known such a thing. He, like most people in this depressed area, depended on a loose pipe network sourced to a communal deep well, which offered dirty water only 6 hours a day. A leaky pipe could have hemorrhaged for months, even years, before being detected. Now, system leaks have a billable address. UTILITY RE-ADJUSTS THE WHEEL In 2005, Manila Water Company Inc., the private utility responsible for northern Metro Manila, began connecting the 40,000plus households along the manmade Overview of the Kabisig neighborhood in Manggahan Floodway, Manila's Manggahan Floodway. where unauthorized slums proliferate along the 9-kilometer stretch that leads to the Laguna Bay. “Some of the people here are literally living on the shores of the embankment. There are homes on stilts,” says Jay Prudencio, a territorial business manager for Manila Water. To clear the technical hurdles often present in densely populated areas, Manila Water turned to small piped water networks as a solution. Typical of this scheme, a local entrepreneur finances and builds a system within a slum area that mimics the utilities’ cost and quality of service, but on a scale that provides affordable, direct connections to urban poor households.
Standing in for the entrepreneur, Manila Water has adopted the idea. It installs a bulk meter at one end of the street. The residents are given 1 to 3 years to pay for a household connection, which covers pipes and household meter. Manila Water only reads the bulk meter, and a “street leader,” nominated by the street residents, reads household meters and collects payments. In less than 1 year, from start to finish, an area has piped, treated, metered, 24/7 water. Manila Water service costs just PhP10 per cubic meter (plus 2 pesos which goes to the homeowners association) compared to PhP50 pesos per cubic meter from the privately owned deep well. The scheme has its downsides, Prudencio admits. At times, street leaders misuse the money they’ve collected. Street leaders also have no legal capacity to prevent connected customers from illegally selling their tap water to outsiders. HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION SIMPLIFIES THE SCHEME In a change-up, Manila Water tested the scheme elsewhere along the floodway with homeowners associations, rather than working directly with street leaders. With more than 300 households as members of the Kapit Bisig (“Neighbors Arm-in-Arm”) association, this approach proved more efficient for Manila Water. Kapit Bisig is responsible for all the pipe laying, metering, and monthly billing and collection. Manila Water deals only with the homeowners association and not individual street leaders. Critics say Manila Water should be doing more than just installing the bulk meter in these slum areas. Prudencio says that ultimately, Manila Water aims to provide individual connections to the mainline in areas like the floodway, and that the small piped water network scheme is only interim. “At the end of the day, though, every household here is still our customer,” Prudencio said. “If they have a complaint, we have to act on it because they know who to go to if we don’t respond—MWSS, the regulator.” The Asian Development Bank (ADB) provided a $100,000 technical assistance grant to four homeowners associations, of which Kabisig is one, to connect to the Manila Water system. ADB says the grant was meant to demonstrate to utilities two things: first, that the urban poor are viable customers when they are offered flexible payment schemes, and secondly, that community organizations are efficient means for connecting highly populated areas.
WHEN CONNECTIONS ARE TOO RISKY “See that area there,” Espayos says, pointing to a narrow margin of wood shanties that sits on stilts above the floodway waters, “they have no Manila Water. They also have no businesses. Here, where there is Manila Water, the businesses are growing.”
ADB is working with the other private Manila concessionaire, Maynilad, to pilot the small piped water network scheme but using an individual entrepreneur as partner. The scheme is also being piloted in India and Viet Razel Espayos in his kangkong field. Nam. RELATED LINK Photo Gallery: Philippines: Small Pipes Deliver Big
Kabisig President Razel Espayos and a Manila Water territorial business manager discuss the progress of their joint small piped water project.
The more economically depressed area Espayos is referring to is scheduled for relocation by the government, and Prudencio says it’s “too risky to connect them.” The investment risk of connecting the critically disenfranchised is another bone critics pick with having a private business responsible for providing such a basic need as water. In fairness, though, a public utility would likely also feel the same risk. Connecting the strip of shanties would costs thousands of pesos, which would ultimately be lost once they are relocated. Yet when they will be relocated is uncertain. “We are aware of the business risk, but we also know that we must do something for them in the meantime,” Prudencio said. ECONOMIC UPTURNS FROM WATER: CAUSATION OR COINCIDENCE? Whether the area’s new economic activity is a case of real causation or just coincidence is debatable. But to the new small business owners like Espayos, they attribute their growing financial security to having a water connection. Espayos offers indirect evidence for the water-is-income case. With the money he has saved from buying expensive water from the privately owned deep well, he can afford the loans that provided capital for his family’s new bakery and sewing service. Not everyone converts the savings into economic gains. Albert Contaco, 24, admits he just plays more basketball. WATER AS A MEANS, NOT AN END That’s why livelihood projects is next on Espayos’ list to accomplish as president of Kapit Bisig. He is negotiating with a special local government agency that extends community loans for livelihood training. Espayos believes the floodway itself holds the key to more income for residents. Already, many of the residents fish Laguna Bay for income. And Contaco, between his basketball games, cultivates 2 hectares of kangkong, a leafy green that grows on the surface of the water and is essential to the Filipino diet. Six months of the year, Contaco earns an impressive 2,500 pesos (US$50) a week harvesting the vegetable. During the dry season, he earns that amount per month.
_______________________________ *This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in May 2007: http://www.adb.org/Water/Actions/phi/water-small-pipes.asp. The Country Water Action series was developed to showcase reforms and good practices in the water sector undertaken by ADB’s member countries. It offers a mix of experience and insights from projects funded by ADB and those undertaken directly by civil society, local governments, the private sector, media, and the academe. The Country Water Actions are regularly featured in ADB’s Water for All News, which covers water sector developments in the Asia and Pacific region.