Country Water Actions

Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals, communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.

Philippines: Manila Water’s Neo–Way with Sanitation— Desludge and Dilute, Connect and Treat, Put Waste to Use
August 2007

Who said a citywide sewage network was impossible for Metro Manila? Manila Water did. When Manila Water took over services for a third of the megacity in 1997, only 7% of households were connected to a sewerage system. Nonetheless, it successfully raised this number through a strategy of desludging and decentralized sewerage. Can it be a model for other megacities in Developing Asia? TAKING ON GOLIATH Manila Water Company, Inc. is getting predictable. Here’s how it goes: The private water concessionaire for Metro Manila’s east zone takes on a goliath of a challenge, gets innovative with it, then—with enough success in its early phases —masters its master plan rather than being a slave to it. This time, the goliath is sanitation. Faced with the daunting task of raising the customer base connected to sanitation from 7% to 63%, Manila Water went around the typical approach: a centralized, citywide sewage network. Too costly. Too disruptive. Not enough space. So Manila Water resorted to an innovative strategy, a 25year master plan that first focuses on an evolutionary process of converting the common technology of communal septic tanks into community-based treatment plants before eventually focusing on a larger combined system. Major upgrades on the community-based treatment plants have been completed. For the rest of its coverage area, Manila Water embarked on modernizing its fleet of desludging trucks and septage treatment capacity for areas that are physically impossible to connect to sewer network. Already, Manila Water says it has doubled its sewage capacity. Propped by this success in its first 10 years, Manila Water is digging into deeper pockets—its own and the World Bank’s—for projects that will total 36 billion pesos in investments. JUST HOW BAD IS IT? Manila Water’s website captures the challenge of sanitation —and its impact—in Metro Manila:

“Current government monitoring indicates that just over a third of the country's river systems remain as viable source of public water supply. In Metro Manila, all major river systems are biologically dead with dissolved oxygen plummeting to zero for most parts of the year. Moreover, studies show coliform bacteria contaminates up to 58% of groundwater sampled. As a result, water-borne sources caused approximately 31% of illnesses monitored for a fiveyear period. Untreated wastewater makes water unfit for drinking and recreational use, threatens biodiversity, and deteriorates overall quality of life.” FIRST ITEM OF BUSINESS: DESLUDGING Nearly 35% of Manila’s services area will remain unconnected to a sewerage system, depending on individual septic tanks and desludging services. Ronald Muaña, Associate Manager for Wastewater Project Development at Manila Water, said the company focused first on modernizing its fleet of desludging trucks. The Manila Second Sewerage Project, a P1 billion World Bank assisted loan project implemented from 2001-2005, outfitted Manila Water with 20 new trucks. The impact on the environment is likely to be huge. In the absence of any systemic desludging service from the previously state-owned utility, households in Metro Manila— if they had a septic tank—tended to either neglect the tank or rely on private desludging companies, which are costly and known to dump untreated wastes illegally. Manila Water plans to fill that market and offer a service private contractors don’t: treating septage by “dewatering and enzyme bio-augmentation for sewage-septage cotreatment,” and recycling solids in controlled areas laden with volcanic ash outside the metro. Customers also perceive Manila Water’s desludging services as being more affordable. Rather than an upfront fee that can cost up to $100 every three to five years, a sanitation tariff is levied as part of their monthly water bill. No fees are charged at desludging time.

HEART OF THE BUSINESS: PIPED SEWERAGE AND TREATMENT The same World Bank project also initiated the rollout of decentralized sewage treatment plants across the city—27 since 2001. Until the 1997 concession agreement, communal septic tanks were the closest Manila had to a sewage system. Although common, these communal septic tanks provide only primary treatment, producing unsatisfactory discharges, especially when not properly cleaned and maintained, which is often the case. Manila Water has been outfitting the communal tanks with equipment that turns them into miniature wastewater treatment plants, capable of primary and secondary treatment before the wastewater is discharged into waterways. A second phase of the World Bank project is providing Manila Water with a fresh $64 million cash infusion that will largely go toward upgrading existing infrastructure to create a combined system that captures both sewage flows and drainage or stormwater for treatment at the communal plants. The project will raise sewerage coverage levels to 30% by 2010, as well as expand the desludging operations to 100 trucks. CONNECTING THE GRID The technological metamorphosis of the communal treatment plants will continue through 2022. Manila Water’s service area covers about 8 catchments or 8 municipalities. With this area already being serviced either by desludging trucks or communal treatment plants, Manila Water will build a single, larger plant for each municipality. The former communal septic tanks turned communal wastewater treatment plants will be gradually converted into pumping stations to feed the larger municipal plants. To accomplish this feat, though, Manila Water is gearing up for major public awareness campaigns. Muaña explains, “What we are planning is a new thing, and sanitation is kind of an invisible problem. Solid waste is in your face, but sanitation disappears. Once you flush the toilet or pull the plug, it disappear, or so people think.”

The long-term impact of flushing and forgetting or dumping illegally has led to fully blown polluted water ways. “The Pasig River is now a visible problem,” Muaña points out. The Pasig River, the city’s main artery, was once vital for trade and a proud fixture of the city’s landscape. For these reasons, the presidential palace was constructed on its banks. The vitality it once offered the city is now replaced by a waterway that oozes with toxins, and reeks to prove it. “Sanitation needs to be understood as everyone’s problem,” Muaña said. GREENING, YIELDING WITH RE-USE Manila Water is also thinking innovatively—and potentially commercially— with what it does with wastewater and sludge. Under controlled experiments, Manila Water is

A MODEL FOR MEGACITIES? A study of Manila Water’s master plan shows that today’s sanitation problem is not the same sanitation problem the United States and Western Europe faced and fixed (for the most part) a century ago through the evolution of plumbing, drainage, sewerage, and treatment. Even the greatest cities of those global corners are not the megacities of Asia today. Manila Water’s concession area alone covers 5.3 million people, divided into 8 municipalities. Without a doubt, governments need smarter models than those used in the past to provide megacity solutions to sanitation and sewerage. Perhaps Manila Water will prove to be one of those models. RELATED LINKS Smarter Sanitation Updates on Manila Water Company, Incorporated's water supply and sanitation performance (August 2007)

_____________________________ *This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in August 2007: 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.

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