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Water Access in the Philippines: Fixing the Institutions that Fix the Pipes

Aileen Castro's picture
Photo: NorthEyes Production/World Bank

As we celebrate World Water Day, I find myself thinking about my work and one central question: how do you reach 8 million Filipinos with no access to clean water? I remember growing up in Pampanga, a province north of Manila, and visiting my aunt’s house every weekend where I had to pump water from a deep well and carry buckets so we could water plants, wash clothes, and clean the backyard pig pen. Fortunately, these days there’s always water from the faucet so we don’t work as hard to do chores.

But the story isn’t the same for everyone. While our local water utility largely improved its services over the years, I can’t say the same for the rest of the country, especially in rural areas. While there are already over 4,700 water utilities in the Philippines, about half are very small and unregulated.

Many of these were established under the legacy of national funding projects or programs. When these ended, they were unable to increase their capacity or formalize their activities due to lack of funding and information on available mentors. So the big challenge is how to professionalize these small water utilities so they can improve their services and deliver safe, affordable and reliable water supply to every household in the communities they serve.
In 2010, the government’s water service regulator, the National Water Resources Board (NWRB), launched an initiative called the Accreditation of Technical Services Providers (ATSP) Program, with World Bank support. The program connects small water utilities with accredited technical experts from the private sector through a reliable and sustainable system that has produced  encouraging results as seen from this video:
 

Water Access in the Philippines: Fixing the Institutions that Fix the Pipes



The idea behind the program was to build an industry around the water sector where technical experts could gain training and accreditation, and where water utilities could easily connect with regulators and a pool of technical experts. This approach aimed to address both the demand and supply sides of the market for technical assistance.

NWRB trained and accredited 78 experts who offered standard assistance to 115 utilities across the country, helping with business plans, operations manuals, operating license processes, and regulatory compliance. These experts fall under three categories:

  • A ‘fixit’ who helps with technical evaluation to reduce water losses, lay more pipes.
  • A finance expert who assists in the financial assessment to improve collection and price fees properly.
  • A strategist who supports the preparation and monitoring of performance improvement plans.
Meet the technical, financial and institutional consultants working with utilities. Image courtesy of NWRB.
One of the first water utilities assisted by the program is the Visayan Village Tagum Rural Waterworks and Multi-Services Cooperative (VITRUWASCO) in Davao del Norte, Mindanao. After three years, they have remarkable results: service connections increased by almost 50%, from 3,200 to 4,653. With increased efficiency, the cooperative started to declare higher dividends which encouraged more membership subscriptions which allowed them to expand services. From 21.7 million pesos, their assets grew to 49 million pesos (US$980,000), an increase of 126%.

It’s not just the small water utilities that gain from the ATSP program but the accredited experts as well. This experience brought them professional rewards, with some of the experts able to substantially increase their number of clients. After completing the program as a finance expert, Ms. Stella Salas gained additional credibility and experience which opened opportunities to work with small water utilities. She now has a total of 32 clients. The same is true with one of our ‘fixits’, Engr. Marcelo Sumampong, who has assisted 18 water utilities since his accreditation in 2011. He has also provided advisory services to private entrepreneurs in Compostela Valley, Mindanao which facilitated the approval of about 63 water permits.

But the benefits of the program are best felt by the consumers who now enjoy 24/7 supply of good quality water at affordable rates. Nely Bautista, a senior citizen customer of a water utility in Anao, Tarlac, is relieved at finally having piped water service straight to her home and having more time to do chores beyond getting water from elsewhere for her household.

With these encouraging results, we look forward to new opportunities to scale up the program. NWRB can tap the Listahang Tubig, a comprehensive list of water utilities nationwide, to target high-impact municipalities and get consultants closer to the clients.

Professionalizing water utilities is just one of the strategies to reach out to the 8 million Filipinos who don’t have steady water access. The government is also actively pursuing the implementation of financing, regulatory and institutional reforms. Are there other effective ways to overcome this challenge? Share your experiences in the comment section below!
 

Comments

Submitted by stella maris salas on

Thanks for this blog Ms. Aileen. Despite the challenges that we have encountered, this blog inspires me to continue to help the small water utilities. So honored to be part of the program.

Indeed, Ms. Stella, there are more challenges to help professionalize our small water utilities. Now that the ATSP Program is institutionalized at NWRB, we continue to count on your flame of inspiration to keep burning and reach out to more utilities. Thank you!

Submitted by stella maris salas on

Thanks for this Ms. Aileen. Despite the challenges, this blog inspires us to continue to help the small water utilities. Am honored to be part of the program!

Submitted by John Turner on

Hi Ma'am Castro, thank you for a very enlightening precis. As an alien Water and Sanitary Engineer we bring technology and products here from UK England that can help with the huge task you have identified. Where many communities don't have safe water but can be up to their wastes and above in storm water when you are hit by the many typhoons. The problem of both are connected. But the hardest part for us to contribute is there are to many different layers, departments organisation LGO/NGO we have to go throgh before we can reach the people who need our services - the end user. It would be a step forward if there was one Gov Dept that could delegate responsibility to smooth the path to the customer.Thanks again for a constructive paper.

The government is now working towards various reforms in the sector including a proposed apex body to address the concerns you have pointed out. We appreciate your comments and wish you success in your developmental work, Mr. Turner!  

Submitted by Carponio A. Rusiana, Jr. on

To be part of the ATSP program is a great honor, Despite of challenges, I was able to touch thousands of people's life in the rural area, and alleviate their living condition by accessing safe, reliable and potable water supply. Your blog inspires me to continue my advocacy in extending my services to small water utilities.

Thank you, Mr. Rusiana for your commitment to provide your expertise in supporting small water utilities. Wishing you more power to touch the lives of more Filipinos in the countryside!

Submitted by Engr. Marcelo G. Sumampong on

Hello Ma'am Aileen and to all WSP Family, Congratulations. Thank you so much for this blog.

My deepest gratitude to the National Water Resources Board ( The water resources regulating agency in the Philippines) and the Water and Sanitation Program - Administered by the world Bank for initiating the ATSP Program.

Indeed, I did not expect that I've been part of this endeavor ( history of the water sector) because I am just an ordinary person living in the mountainous town of Maragusan,Davao Region in Southern Philippines serving people through our small water service cooperative.

But our dear God put me to a higher responsibility of assisting our brother small water utilities through the ATSP Program. I believed and I recognized that it is his call, because until now most of the water utilities I assisted they are still communicating with me and requesting my help and inviting me to attend their board and staff meetings. These water utilities are still longing for my help. This made me more excited and inspired in doing more my extended work for the benefit of our small water utilities. Yes, how wonderful our God is: He knows that the small water utilities really needs a person who can guide them for the sustainability of their water system, I sacrificially attended their meetings and gave them some advises because some of these small water utilities were all typhoon Pablo victims. There are nos. of water utilities also were not part of the atsp program but nevertheless as long as they need my help I will go them. These water utilities are still on the process of restoring and rehabilitating their water system until now. Through this I deeply experienced a heart filled with joy and inspiration most especially when I heard a voice and I quote" THANK YOU SO MUCH ENGINEER , GOD BLESS YOU ALWAYS". i quote. This word of gratitude is very precious than Gold. We have known that our life on earth is too short to live for the sake of others. God our dear Heavenly Father trained us to experience this kind of love because later when we are already in the spirit world we can inherit this love to give us joy forever with God.

With all our endeavors, we have to dedicate this to the poor community. In return God will provides us secretly with his great blessings. In 2011 when I started my work as ATSP my daughter was still in college and she is now a CPA working with the Commission on Audit assigned to audit in the government's financial institution ( LBP and DBP in Davao region), God provides me a Car , house and lot in Davao City, my eldest son is now in the International NGO , an NGO which is an Economic and Social Council of the United Nation.

Lastly, The most difficult time that we have to go through, the nearer we will be to God, so at the height of trials, hindrances, hardships and even persecutions, we must give thanks to God for it. Beyond that God will secretly gives us more and more blessings.

Long live ATSP Program - The light and Hope of Small Water Utilities.

Warm regards to all,

Jun Sumampong

You are an inspiration to many colleagues, Mr. Sumampong! We understand many utilities in your area continue to seek your after-service advice. May you be blessed more with the resources you need to pursue your mission of supporting utilities beyond Maragusan and Davao Region.

Submitted by Engr. Marcelo G. Sumampong on

Hello Congratulations to everyone...

CONGRATULATIONS NWRB AND WSP - WORLD BANK FOR THIS BLOG.

ATSP Program is the Light and Hope of Small Water Utilities. The Program will also help in the proper Education, Information and Dissemination to every establishments/institutions, especially for big companies that in Utilizing Water Resources , it should be on proper government regulations.

Long live ATSP PROGRAM.

Thank you of being part of the History of the Water Sector.

ENGR. MARCELO G. SUMAMPONG
ATSP - Davao region
Southern Philippines.

I agree Engr. Sumampong that all water users, big or small, must be aware of and compliant with the appropriate economic and resource regulation.  We count on dedicated ATSPs like you to help educate people you are connected with. Thank you!

Submitted by Fadel on

Great blog! Congratulations Aileen. This is the way to go to create a sustainable indigenous water market that will benefit the poor and strengthen local capacities. Allow me to provide to your readers the link below about the Philippines case study I prepared a couple years ago on the importance of providing also capacity building support to Public Institutions in small towns' water supply

Many thanks Fadel! Please share the link about the Philippines case study on the importance of capacity building support to public institutions in small towns’ water supply as it did not show in your comment.

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