Typhoon Ketsana Highlights Poor Philippine Sanitation System

Each typhoon season dredges up an unresolved problem in the Philippines: ineffective sewer drainage and sanitation.

After Typhoon Ketsana, Oxfam urged the Philippine government to recognize sanitation and clean water as "the two key needs" of victims. Otherwise, it could result in another catastrophe - disease outbreaks.

"Environmental sanitation is important because it nips other problems in the bud," said Oxfam spokesperson Arif Jabbar Khan.

A sanitation system has been in place since 1976 in the Philippines, with local municipalities managing it. The Philippine Sanitation Alliance cited rapid urbanization as one of the causes of an ineffective sanitation system.

"Underinvestment in building and maintaining drains can trigger bigger disasters," said Margareta Wahlström, special representative of the United Nations secretary-general for disaster risk reduction.

Lack of funding for projects is another problem. The World Bank did a study in 2008, which proved that despite improvements in sanitation, 20 million Filipinos are still without proper sanitation.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act in 2001 to improve solid waste management. The action committee formed by the government planned to build 726 open dumpsites, 215 controlled dumps and two sanitary landfills by 2003. But many towns could not afford to build the dumpsites.

PSA, in cooperation with the U.S. Agency for International Development and USAID Global Development Alliance, undertakes water and sanitation programming. It provides training to local government officials on solid waste and wastewater management, and teaches communities how to build low-cost, wastewater treatment systems. Successful projects have been completed in a several Philippine provinces.

Nonetheless, the main problem - a sustainable national sanitation system - remains. This requires a more cohesive and effective sanitation system supported and enforced by the government.

Anyone who saw the televised damage of Typhoon Ketsana would say effective disaster response isn't enough.

About the author

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    Moria Byrne

    Moria joined Devex's Washington bureau in September 2009 as an international development correspondent fellow. She is a communications specialist with a background in international development public relations, publishing, education and journalism. Moria has worked for Catholic Relief Services and, as a Peace Corps volunteer, lived in the Philippines for two years.