WATER FOR ALL: Empowering Communities in Managing Rural Water Systems

Lauis River, one possible water source for barangay Pinagrealan & Lauis.
Lauis River, one possible water source for barangay Pinagrealan & Lauis.

In many rural areas of Candelaria, Zambales, water is a luxury. Families who can afford drinking water spend 400 to 500 pesos every month buying from small purifying stations. This is a heavy expense for the underprivileged majority in Barangay Pinagrealan and Lauis whose incomes are heavily dependent on seasonal work. Many have no choice but to subsist on the limited tap water which a resident describes as yellowish and dirty.

The local government of Candelaria operates a centralized system that provides water for all of its barangays, but the water is not plentiful or clean enough for the needs of the households it supplies. AES Philippine Power Foundation, Inc. (APPFI) partnered with the Jaime V. Ongpin Foundation, Inc. (JVOFI) in providing a community-based water system for barangay Pinagrealan and Lauis. This was enthusiastically welcomed by the communities who have struggled with water shortage for so long.

The community’s involvement shall ensure that this project  shall  mobilize people through their desire to uplift their living condition.  It shall go beyond the provision of a water system by raising awareness on the importance of watersheds and protecting the Lauis river basin. This is in line with APPFI’s pursuit of an integrated approach to corporate responsibility, ensuring consistency with the interests of  the  stakeholders. Anchored from the UN’s Millenium Development Goal, its major thrusts are along Economic Development, Education, Health and Environmental Stewardship.

On July 30, 2015 a small group of Pinagrealan and Lauis community leaders gathered beneath the thatched roof of a simple home to discuss their concerns about the water system project. APPFI, JVOFI , LGU officials & community members offered alternative solutions to the identified issues.

Hopeful Beginnings
Candelaria is a rice-growing municipality and farming rice is a deeply interdependent activity. It takes a community to create elaborate irrigation canals and it takes cooperation to synchronize the flooding of the fields that allow rice to be grown in standing water.

This profoundly ingrained culture of cooperative labor was not lost when the community came together to construct the intake tank which would collect water from a mountain spring in Sitio Maningor and take it to the homes and families of Barangay Pinagrealan and Lauis. The men carried steel pipes and bags of cement, crossing rushing rivers and steep hills to reach the site. The women formed lines and passed stones that would make up the walls of the infrastructure and the children helped in any small way they could. It was not easy work but the community persisted, hopeful in the knowledge that only good things will come from their hardships.

The First Obstacle
Like any other infrastructure project, a number of technical problems were encountered. It became necessary to look for a different water source and alter the main plans of the water system. Pinagrealan Punong Barangay Eli Bacho acknowledged this obstacle and rallied the group to look for solutions. Members of the Pinagrealan-Lauis Upland Farmers Association (PILUFA) helped APPFI and JVOFI in identifying alternative water sources.

Continuing Efforts

PILUFA secretary Maricel Luis is determined for the project to succeed, “Importante ang tubig, parang dugo natin yan na nananalaytay sa ugat [water is as important as the blood flowing in our veins]” she adds. It is the women who are most fervent in their hope for water. They often hold the burden of fetching enough water for cooking, drinking, bathing and cleaning. Access to clean and abundant water will help them in their domestic duties and allow them to focus their time and effort on more important activities.

A sense of ownership for the project is prevalent in the community and in PILUFA, the local organization who will be responsible for the management of the water system for Pinagrealan and Lauis. Their involvement in the design and construction of the water system ensures their motivation in maintaining and preserving the infrastructure. Providing communities with access to water is not simply about building wells and laying pipes, it is also about organizing driven local institutions who have the capacity to manage their resources.
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