Manila’s Water Shortage

Via Future Directions International, a report on Manila’s water challenges:

The recent water shortage in the Philippines caused massive interruptions in the daily lives of some sections of the population. The effects of the shortage are most apparent in Manila, the capital and heartland of the Philippines. The shortage seems to have begun in early March and was initially limited to minor shortages in rural areas that lasted for six hours. The situation has since escalated, however, as 6.8 million residents in Manila have experienced either a slight change in water volumes or a complete water shortage. With the shortage of water continuing to be a major problem for many households, the results can be seen on the streets of Manila, where residents line up for hours with a pail to receive water from fire trucks. The reasons for the water shortage in Manila have been heavily debated, with the occurrence of an El Niño and the rising demand for water in Manila, two commonly held explanations.

Manila, being a large metropolitan city with a population of around 12 million people, receives water from two private companies: Maynilad Water Services Inc. and Manila Water. The two companies supply water to the west and east sides of Manila respectively. With the recent drop in the water level of the La Mesa Dam, where Manila sources its water, it is apparent that the companies will have a hard time meeting the demand for water in Manila.


The need for immediate action has led both houses of the congress to launch an investigation to determine the reason for the water shortage. The investigation also aims to provide solutions on how to rectify the situation and prevent further occurrences in the future. In the meantime, Manila Water has issued a statement that blames the situation on rising water demand in East Manila. East Manila has seen major population growth and with that growth, a higher need for water arises. In the statement, Manila Water states that it supplies 1.6 billion litres of water per day, yet it is not able to keep up with demand, which is 1.74 billion litres of water per day in East Manila. With Manila Water unable meet the demand, Maynilad has offered to step in and share supply with Manila Water. Both companies extract water from the same dam (Angat Dam). Maynilad uses 60 per cent of the reservoir, leaving 40 per cent to Manila Water, this uneven distribution has led Manila Water to fall behind in its ability to meet demand.

While the sharing of water supply and the congressional investigation are ongoing, many from both the public and private sectors have begun proposing more sustainable methods. One idea is being pushed by the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who advocates the construction of a Chinese-funded dam to the south of the capital. The dam, which is estimated to cost 12.2 billion peso ($877.9 million), would be funded by both China and the Philippine Government agency Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, 86 per cent and 14 per cent, respectively. If it is built, the Kaliwa Dam will provide a new water source for Manila, with an estimated output of 600 million litres of water per day. Further support for the dam has come from the Finance Minister, who stated that the Kaliwa Dam would solve water shortage problems in the Philippines.

The dam project has also been criticised, however, mainly because it would necessitate a massive displacement of inhabitants in the region (mainly indigenous people) and also the potential damage the dam could do to the ecosystem of the area. The idea of building the dam was negotiated when the Chinese President Xi Jinping made a state visit to the Philippines in 2018. If it goes ahead, the building of the dam could potentially foster stronger ties between China and the Philippines.

While the government is heavily endorsing the Kaliwa Dam, Philippine billionaire Enrique Razon is proposing, both to the public and to the government, modification of the existing Wawa Dam to increase its output. Mr. Razon has already secured supply agreements with Manila Water, along with other environmental permits. His plan to utilise the Wawa Dam as a potential source for water has been met by fierce government opposition, but the modification of the dam by Mr. Razon could prove to be a more sustainable water source for the residents of Manila.

Ever since the water shortages began, many solutions have been proposed by both the government and the private sector, but it is still unclear which solution will prove to be appropriate to resolve the current situation. Most plans that have been proposed, especially those that involve the creation of new dams, would not be able to help the six million people affected right now. In the long term, however, they could help relieve the water supply pressures faced by the growing city of Manila.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 27th, 2019 at 10:49 pm and is filed under Philippines.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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