In Cebu, the Philippines, thousands of people are getting a connection to clean drinking water for the first time ever. However, COVID-19 is posing unanticipated risks to this project as the coronavirus spreads across the country. The project partners are doing everything they can to reduce these risks.
With millions of people, Cebu is the second-largest metropolitan area in the Philippines. There are slums, also known as aspiring communities in the Philippines, where access to clean drinking water is an unknown luxury. In 2015, a project started to improve this situation. Dutch water operator VEI manages this public-private partnership (PPP) project with support from the Sustainable Water Fund (FDW). VEI is a cooperative partnership that includes 6 of the 10 water operators in the Netherlands.
Drinking water for 80,000 people
Several partners are involved in this PPP. VEI provides technical support to the local water operator Metro Cebu Water District (MCWD) to expand its distribution network to include poorer neighbourhoods. This will provide 65,000 vulnerable people with safe, long-term access to drinking water. The French NGO Eau et Vie will ensure that another 15,000 people living in slums get access to water provided by MCWD. The Red Cross is also carrying out a programme aimed at helping these slum communities adapt better to disasters.
“We are currently in the final phase of the project and expect to meet all our targets,” says VEI project manager Patrick Egan. “Due to the coronavirus, however, Cebu has been in lockdown since March. This will last until May 31. After this, the lockdown will either be extended for another 2 weeks or reduced. If it is reduced, more shops and businesses will open and managed construction works can continue. The lockdown is a disaster for those who are daily wage earners. Sitting at home leaves them without income, and they have no savings to help them. In 2020, the World Bank expects a 20% global reduction in remittance, which is money sent home from abroad, another source of money gone. As a result, they cannot pay the water fees that Eau et Vie collects daily, for example. This increases the risk of not having access to drinking water, poor hygiene practices, as well as financial problems for Eau et Vie.”
Egan has decided to stay longer in Cebu. “The COVID-19 crisis means we have to make big changes to the project. In April and May, we will be giving water to local residents for free. We are also asking MCWD not to bill Eau et Vie for the water right now, which they have agreed to.” Also, MCWD is using water trucks to give out free water to remote communities.
Egan still has some emergency budget and wants to use part of the FDW funding in a different way. “The goal, among other things, is to provide personal protective equipment for Red Cross staff members. That way they can continue their work in the slums.” VEI has also set up mobile facilities where people can wash their hands at water collection points. This meets the existing project objectives of ensuring the urban poor have access to drinking water. Egan continues: “The Netherlands Enterprise Agency has been very understanding about the changing situation. The lines of communication with them are short. That is exactly what we need right now.”
Sustainable Water Fund (FDW)
The Netherlands Enterprise Agency uses the Sustainable Water Fund (FDW) to stimulate public-private collaboration in the water sector on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.