TACLOBAN CITY – When news broke out of cases of diarrhea in their neighborhood, Verna Cordero, a 24-year-old sales clerk and resident of Barangay 106 here, did not make a second thought to bring her two children to her mother’s house in a coastal community here.

“Safety of my children first before anything else,” she says, as her two sons cramp with their cousins in a small bed while heavy rains from Typhoon Paeng drop from the leaking roof making the whole floor damp.

She said the eldest son, a first grader in a public school, will be absent from school for the meantime while there remains no clear solution to the water problem that caused illness to over 100 residents.

“I know this will happen someday. We have been complaining of the dirty water in our village but nobody seems to care. And then this happened,” she said.

Pandora’s box

The cholera outbreak in Tacloban City opened the proverbial pandora’s box of the long-drawn problem with water supply in the city affecting over 12,000 families living in different housing projects that were established in the post-Yolanda rehabilitation.

Despite the lingering problem, there seems to be no immediacy to come up with a long-term solution as the remedial measures to fix it that were put in place seemed to have been working until the cholera outbreak came.

The Tacloban City Health Office (TCHO) reported that as of October 27, five people have died due to severe dehydration caused by acute watery diarrhea – two of them were from Barangay 106, the epicenter of the outbreak.

As of the same date, a total 344 acute water diarrhea has already been reported – 109 of them were recorded in a single day. Of these total number of cases, 255 are under home management, 98 were admitted in different hospitals while nine have recovered.

Records from TCHO also show that of the 344 acute watery diarrhea cases, 228 of them were from Barangay 106.

Water samples gathered by the Department of Health regional office and the TCHO on raw water at the source, the processed water, and on the pipes leading to households in Barangay 106 all showed positive of contamination of total coliform and Escherichia coli or E. Coli. A water refilling station found inside the village was likewise tested positive of both total coliform and E.Coli.

“We know the water is dirty. It is murky especially when it rains and there is a trace of a foul smell,” says Cordero. “We don’t drink the water that comes out of the faucet,” she added.

“We have been complaining about this to the city government and to our water supplier. We are always told that it is clean since the water is chlorinated,” she said.

Substandard pipes

Residents in the different relocation sites have been demanding that they be connected to the city’s main water supply of Leyte Metropolitan Water District, now called Prime Water Leyte Metro.

They complain of the high cost incurred in buying bottled water from the different water refilling stations, aside from the lingering questions of the safety and potability of the water they buy.

Early on their relocation, the city government would supply them with potable water regularly with trucks delivering water on a daily basis, but that has stopped.

Ronnie Conico, general manager of Prime Water Leyte Metro, says the water district is ready to supply water to these villages but the problem is that the pipes that were laid down by the subcontractors of the different housing units do not meet the standard of the water district.

“These housing projects, including those that were constructed by the National Housing Administration, do not meet the standard of our piping. These projects were subjected to multiple subcontracting,” he said.

He said the pipes that were laid down are prone to leaks and are unsanitized, which may cause bacterial intrusion and might affect the delivery of service to the consumers.

“They have to fix it otherwise we cannot connect them to the mainline. If the pipeline is not of standard, they may burst due to the high pressure coming from the main line. This will affect all the water consumers in the city,” Cornico said.

He said businessman Jose Acuza, who was named the housing czar of the Marcos administration, has promised the city government to provide funds for the fixing of the pipelines at the relocation site.

Cornico said that for the meantime, the Prime Water Leyte Metro would regularly supply water to Barangay 106 until the problem with water supply is fixed.

Precious water

For over five years now, families living in the different relocation sites have been relying on water bought from different water refilling stations for their drinking water. This makes a big dent on their budget especially that most of them were formerly informal settlers who used to live in urban poor coastal communities of the city before the onslaught of typhoon Yolanda.

“We spend at least PHP 100 on water alone every day. With the increasing cost of food and transportation going to work, nothing is left,” she said. Cordero earns the minimum wage of PHP 325 a day while her husband is a seasonal worker in construction.

Imelda Baronda, an employee at the Department of Education, said her family spends between PHP 150-200 a day for water alone.

Baronda, who is a cluster president in Villa Diana, an NHA housing resettlement site, appeals to the city government to continue with their water rationing.

She said previous water deliveries from the city government were managed by the cluster and residents pay only PHP 1 to the cluster for every jug of water, where the funds go for community improvement projects. “Now we are paying PHP 5 for every jug of water,” she said. “We hope to also get connected to the Prime Water Leyte Metro, anyway we are willing to pay as long as we have our individual water meter,” she said. By Elmer Recuerdo (EV Mail October 24-30, 2022 issue)