Water for the Poor Communities, in Manila, Philippines
Prior to this practice, severe water shortages were experienced in Metro Manila. The Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) was the sole provider of water in Metro Manila, but it could not keep its water supply volumes apace with the city’s increasing population. Water service was reaching less than two-thirds of the population. When water reached households, pressure, availability and quality was below standards. In addition, few poor households had access to water. Connection to a piped water service was technically impossible for the poor (mostly informal settlers) because of the stringent connection application requirements, including land titles. Thus, poor households either queued for long hours at public faucets located far from their houses to get water, or were forced to buy from water vendors or private wells which were sometimes ten times more expensive than the piped water service. Some resort to unsafe connections tapped illegally to the MWSS mainlines. As a result, non-revenue water levels were alarmingly high at 60 per cent as against the industry standard of 30 per cent. There were also severe occurrences of water-borne diseases and deaths due to these unsafe and inadequate water connections.
2. Key partners
Manila Water Company, Inc. (MWCI) is primarily responsible for initiating the TPSB programme. Its roles include identifying and assessing the TPSB area, organizing and coordinating with the recipient community, implementing the TPSB scheme chosen by the community, supervising the pipe-laying and water meter installations and ensuring and monitoring daily TPSB operations.
Local Government Units (LGUs) and Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) are MWCI’s partners in implementing the programme. Their roles include mobilizing the community, deciding what TPSB scheme is appropriate for the community, giving endorsements and permits to facilitate construction of the project and providing support to MWCI during project development
and implementation. For community-managed water connections (bulk meters or communal meters), LGUs or CBOs are also responsible for the day-to-day management and operation of the TPSB facilities including repair, maintenance and monitoring of pipes and other facilities. They are also responsible for the monthly billing, collection and remittance of the individual household’s water consumption charges.
Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), through its Regulatory Office (RO), is involved in the regulation and monitoring of all the activities of MWCI including the TPSB programme.
The Tubig Para sa Barangay (TPSB) or Water for the Poor Communities programme is being implemented in the East Zone of Metro Manila. The programme provides water supply services to urban poor households in the east area. The programme was launched in 1998 and is expected to continue throughout Manila Water’s 25-year concession period.
To date, 438 TPSB programmes are fully operational, providing over 680,000 urban poor residents with clean, potable and reasonably-priced water. MWCI is currently completing additional TPSB projects to serve 100,000 more poor people, and the company expects to spend a further eight million USD on the programme throughout the concession period. The initial capital investments required for setting up TPSB projects are sourced by the MWCI either from its existing assets, revenues from other operations or from its lenders. In some cases, the city, municipality or community association offers financial contribution and support to TPSB projects by waiving excavation or digging fees and permit fees. During operation, revenues from the collection of monthly water bills are used for the practice’s operating and maintenance expenses.
A key ingredient in the success of the TPSB is its aggressive roll-out. By mid-2003, MWCI had already surpassed its year-end TPSB target of 100,000 households connected to the central distribution system. The success of the programme may also be attributed to the dedicated efforts of MWCI field personnel who work diligently in each territory and have close contact with the various stakeholders. Other critical success factors include the relaxation of connection application requirements, which allow poor residents, particularly informal settlers, to connect easily to the piped water service, active community participation and effective coordination with local officials, community leaders or representatives and cooperation and support, both financial and physical, from the city government or neighbourhood association.
The TPSB programme has successfully brought potable water supply services to people living in the poor communities all over Metro Manila’s East Zone. It has improved the quality of water service provision in these areas by: increasing service coverage to include several poor communities, making water supply available for 20 to 24 hours a day, reducing the cost of water per cubic metre, increasing the billed volume (increased water consumption), improving water quality to meet drinking standards, minimizing leaks and illegal connections and reducing non-revenue water levels. The programme also helped in the reduction of diarrhoea cases in Metro Manila, which shows that the TPSB programme has been instrumental in providing access to proper sanitation and hygiene.
TPSB has also helped MWCI fulfil its service obligations, increase its revenues and improve its operational efficiency (90 to 95 per cent collection efficiency) proving that strong financial, institutional and operation benefits can be derived from pro-poor projects.
Finally, the programme has fostered strong community relationships, empowered community members and representatives and improved the general welfare of community residents increasing their income earning opportunities. On the other hand problems in the billing and collection aspect were sometimes encountered.
Impact on the poor
Through the TPSB programme, many poor families can now draw clean and affordable water from their own household taps. They no longer have to queue at public faucets, rely on unsafe illegal connections or buy unreasonably-priced and non-potable water from vendors. As a result, poor residents can now spend more time on income-generating and other productive activities. The programme has also provided the poor households with financial savings and made payment of fees easier and affordable through lower connection fees, varied instalment schemes, reduced monthly water charges and socialized water rates. The programme also improved the health of poor communities reducing the incidences of diarrhoea, a common disease in depressed areas.
With regards to social inclusion, the programme has made the poor residents feel that they are a legitimate part of society by providing them with basic water services. Moreover, the TPSB programme has empowered community members and enabled the participation of poor residents in the provision of water services.
5. Sustainability and replication
Fiscal and economic sustainability are possible due to the positive profit margin derived from project operations, as well as the high willingness to pay of low-income households and financial support given by some local government units and community-based organizations. To ensure and maintain the programme’s environmental and social sustainability, MWCI is now preparing to complement the programme with a low-cost water sanitation programme through its “Sanitation for the Poor” project.
Replication and upscaling of the TPSB programme can be effectively carried out as long as the prospective communities are well-organized, financial and physical resources are available, physical environment, economic conditions and community relationships are favourable and the identified institutional, pricing and regulatory policy issues are properly addressed and resolved.
The TPSB programme has reinvented and significantly improved the provision of water supply services in Metro Manila. The TPSB programme has produced favourable outcomes, exemplified best practice principles and revealed lessons of broad relevance in the delivery of water services. Its innovative features and successful elements are worth considering and replicating in other areas, both locally and globally.
6. Lessons learned
The programme has enabled poor households to easily connect to piped-in water services by effecting policy changes in the connection application requirements such as waiving of the land title requirements and introduction of flexible payment schemes. Another innovative aspect of the programme is the involvement of the poor themselves in programme design and operation. The poor households are active decision makers in the process, and are responsible for choosing the connection scheme and collection arrangement for their community. The residents also play crucial roles in the management, monitoring and maintenance of TPSB facilities. Billing and collection activities are likewise delegated to the community representatives or leaders in the case of a community-managed water connection.
Other lessons and policy issues
Through the TPSB, it was realized that for-profit companies such as MWCI could still derive financial and operational benefits from socially-oriented endeavors.
However, some changes and areas for improvement in the policy and regulatory frameworks must be considered to ensure that benefits gained from the TPSB programme are sustained and improved. The water pricing policy (rising block tariff structure) adversely affects the poor, especially those connected through communal or shared water meters. The regulatory functions of the MWSS Regulatory Office should be expanded to cover the regulation of water pricing by community leaders or agents in TPSB areas so that the poor customers will be protected from price monopolies.
Documented by: Maria Lourdes Baclagon Deputy Executive Director, BOT Center, Philippines