The capital of the Philippines, a nation with more than 7,500 islands, is reeling from the most severe water shortage in nearly a decade.
Infrastructure delays, rising demand and the onset of summer shrinking supply at dams are causing the shortage. Manila Water Co. Inc., the utility owned by Ayala Corp. and serves half of the capital, accepted blame for the supply crunch. While the problem eased in the past few days, the government and companies are still looking for immediate and long-term solutions.
Why is there a water shortage?
Supply interruptions in Manila Water’s service areas started early March in dozens of villages and spread to entire cities last week. Some districts went without water for days. Manila Water had a shortage of 140 million liters daily.
Whenever La Mesa Dam’s level drops to 69 meters or lower as it did this month, water no longer flows to Manila Water’s treatment plant. Also, Manila Water’s Cardona treatment facility that’s built to provide 100 million liters daily from Laguna Lake should have started operations in December but was just partially energized on March 15.
New water sources should have been built while the government’s Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System and the concessionaires should have expanded their infrastructure.
How are people and businesses affected?
At the height of the outage last week, thousands of pail-carrying Manila Water customers lined up in front of pumps and fire hydrants while others chased firetrucks. Stores ran out of plastic containers while some restaurants stopped serving drinks.
Public hospitals in affected areas turned away patients with less urgent cases while affected malls have shut some of their toilets. The Peninsula Manila Hotel in Makati City closed its water fountain last week amid the shortage.
Manila Water shares have dropped 5 percent since it announced the problem.
The Philippines is closely looking at the impact of El Nino on food security, inflation and growth after the water shortage in the capital, Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said last week.
What’s being done to solve the problem?
President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday ordered that water good for 150 days or about 600,000 million liters be released from Angat Dam right away to boost supply. But limited infrastructure prevents Metropolitan Waterworks and the concessionaires from drawing more than 4,000 million liters daily from Angat, which supplies 95 per cent of Manila’s needs.
The agency in-charge of water planning and regulations pushed to reactivate old wells to add to the 50 million liters daily that Maynilad started providing on March 18 to Manila Water and the 50 million liters daily next month from Cardona’s partial operations.
San Miguel Corp. offered 140 million liters daily from its Bulacan treatment plant but it will require 14,000 trips a day using 10-kiloliter tankers. Tycoon Enrique Razon plans to build Wawa Dam in Rizal province to provide 80 million liters per day by 2021 and 540 million liters daily by 2024.
Has this happened before in the Philippines?
In 2010 when the country was also hit by El Nino, Manila residents similarly suffered from a water supply crunch lasting several hours a day. The government then had regular cloud seeding operations and tankers went around cities to distribute water to households.
Maynilad Water Services Inc., which serves the other half of the capital, said it had built more reservoirs and treatment plants after the 2010 shortage.
When will the shortage end?
Supply has been restored to 90 per cent of Manila Water’s affected customers by Monday, it said. Uninterrupted water service will resume by end-May, Manila Water President Ferdinand Dela Cruz told a congressional probe on March 18. Dela Cruz also told lawmakers that he holds himself accountable for the shortage and that he’s ready to step down.