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A thirsty community in Bukidnon

Immediately after he arrives from school, eight-year old, Armando fetches buckets of water from the spring for drinking.

The sun is about to settle down so Reynante Lago, 22, immediately parked his motorcycle in a vacant space parallel to the vast sugarcane plantation in Quezon, one of the municipalities of Bukidnon. He quickly grabbed five empty water containers, passing through stony riverbeds with women doing the laundry and kids enjoying an afternoon swim. 

The daily struggle

It took Reynante 10 minutes to reach the spring at the end of a steep and rocky path that had been beaten by the steps of many others over the years. While approaching, he met other women, old people, and children – carrying containers to collect water.

In front of a tree, there’s a strict warning that says, “Bawal maglabay sa plastic, cellophane, lata, ug uban pa. Multa: P1000 By the management Brgy. Butong and task force (No throwing of garbage, plastic bags, tin cans, etc., Fine is worth P1000, by the management of barangay Butong and task force). The water comes out from the spring underneath an old balete tree, which can be easily contaminated in the open space. 

“The risk to get dirty or contaminated water is very high that’s why it’s everybody’s responsibility to take care of this source for us to survive,” says Reynante.

For many generations in Butong, residents make do with only two sources of water through the spring. They never had water faucets at home. They ration few precious buckets of water for basic needs as bathing, cooking, and washing. Sometimes, residents buy water from neighboring towns that costs 10-20 pesos per container. “In our place, water is as precious as gold,” says Reynante.

Reynante makes two trips to fetch water every day, sometimes carrying almost 100 liters of water at a time. “It’s been a lot easier now because I already own a motorbike,” says Reynante. When his savings was enough, he loaned a motorbike two months ago-- to get water easier. Before, he could have rented a motorbike for P50, but he had no money to spare, so his feet and back had to pay.

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“It was difficult and heavy climbing up and down the steep hill in the dry heat,” remembers Reynante. “But the people here are getting used to it already. It’s like a normal routine.”

The irony

Quezon is a first class municipality in Bukidnon province. Although Pulangi River, the longest body of water in Bukidnon, is relatively close, those villages with difficult terrains like Butong, could not easily access water. The local government in Quezon has been persistent in their efforts to put up access to water system in remote barangays but there’s a big challenge in strengthening community management. Budget and logistics are major considerations too.

Despite the bounty of springs and abundant water sources in Bukidnon, the drought affecting the entire Mindanao has taken its toll towards this endeavor.

“We had attempts the past months but because of El Nino, we’re still unsuccessful,” Nehru Tan, barangay kagawad of Butong, Quezon, Bukidnon.

Approximately 13, 000 residents in Butong suffer from this problem over the years. Based on the report of Department of Social Welfare’s (DSWD’s) National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction (NHTS-PR), Bukidnon is one of the provinces in the Philippines that suffer scarcity of clean water.

According to reports, the ground water from the spring may face issues related to environmental degradation, contamination from waste, and threat from the climate change.

“It’s costly to invest water in our area. Yet we’ve learned that the cost of not ensuring access to drinking water and sanitation is even higher in terms of public health and lost work and school days among our children,” says kagawad Tan. “We will continue our efforts but we need more resources including people’s full participation to realize our goal,” he added.

As of this writing, the rural health unit in the barangay doesn’t even have enough supply of water either. In a week, about 2-3 pregnant women give birth at the health clinic. “Luckily, nobody showed up today, or else we will be in trouble,” adds kagawad Tan.

The 2014 Millennium Development Goals (MDG) progress report shows that although the country surpassed MDG targets on safe drinking water, approximately 15.7 million Filipinos still lack access. Thus, the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) expects global food and water demand to double.

Sugar tastes bitter

Bukidnon is known as the major food basket in Mindanao. However, instead of having rice, corn, and vegetable plantation, which they could harvest for food, the wide fields in Quezon are more occupied by individual and commercial sugarcane and pineapple plantation.

“I’ve been a sugarcane farmer since sixteen years old but my job is still too small to provide a family’s needs,” adds Reynante. Currently, he has two kids to feed and support.

Sugarcane in Quezon provides livelihood to many but other issues have surfaced. Farmers or laborers earn for only small salaries paired with enormous debts.

Unfortunately, most people work as laborers in haciendas for P200 per day yet it’s only an irregular job. “Our salary is nothing compared to the price of sugar itself,” adds Reynante.

A shared dream

World Vision has just started its partnership with the local government in Quezon Bukidnon and the people themselves to solve major issues in the community like scarcity of water, child labor, and poverty in general.

“Community led approaches to water supply and sanitation can bring long lasting benefits to remote villages like Butong,” says Veronica Macabudbod, World Vision Program Officer. “We will extend our support in advocating to our communities that they should be responsible in managing the ongoing efforts to provide easy access to clean water.”

For Reynante, it’s been his ultimate dream to have a faucet at home. “I don’t want my children to get sick. Although we have our own toilet to keep ourselves clean, but we need to build a water system,” says Reynante.

“I hope the running politicians today will make [it] a priority. If that happens, my dream will be finally be fulfilled.”

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