MANILA, December 7, 2023 – Municipalities and cities need strong support from the national government for the Philippines to achieve universal access to safe water and sanitation, an essential building block for strengthening human capital and public health, and reducing poverty, the World Bank said in its semi-annual Philippines Economic Update (PEU).
Only 48% of the Philippine population are currently receiving safely managed or piped water services, and approximately 63% have access to safely managed sanitation services or proper collection, treatment, and disposal of human waste, the report says. These figures are significantly lower than the regional East Asia Pacific (EAP) average, which stands at around 74% for safe water access and 69% for access to sanitation.
Lack of access to basic water and sanitation services is associated with illness, malnutrition, and childhood stunting. Nearly one-third of Filipino children suffer from stunting.
The Philippines aims to achieve universal access to safe water and sanitation services by 2030 in line with its commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) prepared a master plan in 2021 to meet this target, requiring investments amounting to over P100 billion a year from both the private and public sectors.
Local government units (LGUs) in the Philippines are responsible for providing safe water and sanitation services to communities. However, they often face challenges including limited funds and capacity. Increased support from the national government will be necessary to address these gaps and ensure the delivery of essential services to all communities.
"Ensuring access to safe water and sanitation services for all Filipinos should be a shared responsibility across different levels of government," said Ndiamé Diop, World Bank Country Director for Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, and Thailand. “In both rural and urban areas, reliable access to adequate water is vital for sustaining economic activity, especially in sectors like industry and tourism. Sustainable access to water and sanitation services is also needed to protect health, reduce the costs associated with water- and sanitation-related illnesses, malnutrition, and productivity losses.”
Climate change will exacerbate the challenges faced by communities whose domestic water supply systems are already under strain. Many of these systems are struggling to meet the demands of rapid urban growth. The impact of higher temperatures is expected to further worsen this shortfall, as reservoir levels decrease, and people consume more water to cope with higher temperatures.
Local governments and water service providers alone are unable to achieve water and sanitation targets due to broader constraints that are beyond their control, according to Maria Fiorella Fabella, World Bank Senior Water Supply and Sanitation Specialist. Governance and regulation issues, lack of financing, capacity and operational challenges, and the sustainability of raw water sources all constrain local governments’ efforts.
“These are common challenges encountered by many countries that have decentralized systems for delivering water and sanitation services,” Fabella said. “To address these hurdles, it is crucial to adopt a coordinated approach led by the national government, working in collaboration with local governments and the private sector.”
The national government will need to support LGUs and water service providers for them to graduate to become self-sustaining and creditworthy utilities, the report says. Support will need to address fundamental issues of capacity that service providers typically face, including through providing technical assistance and capacity-building, capital support, and measures to make water supply and sanitation projects feasible and attractive to private investors.