Paradigms of Decentralization, Institutional Design & Poverty: Drinking Water in the Philippines

Emerging Issues and Shifting Decentralization Paradigms

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Emerging Issues and Shifting Decentralization Paradigms
A critical examination of the CVWS Project point out that there are a few emerging issues that highlight the notion that sustainable and equitable provision of drinking water and sanitation services require a shift from the decentralization paradigm that has been adopted.

Economies of Scale

Given that this project was designed after the enactment of the Local Government Code in 1991 that provides a policy framework for the management of drinking water by the local government, there are a few issues associated with this institutional design marked by a flow of funds to community and user groups by-passing the local governments. Irrespective of the directive in the Local Government Code, it can be argued that an efficient and sustainable delivery of a public good like water requires local government overseeing. There are still a few institutional, capacity and fiscal issues that need to addressed for effective governance of drinking water by local governments.
Drinking water technologies that require economies of scale beyond the boundaries of the municipality which are economically efficient and affordable are not addressed. Inter-municipal collaboration or joint projects on the basis of availability of sustainable source are not considered (this may be a reason for a high per capita cost of the CVWS Project). These can become critical in water quality affected areas where communities may have no option but to rely on seasonal springs and rainwater harvesting. The CVWS projects that were studied had an average of about 950 connections, and the project designs were limited by the municipal boundaries giving little flexibility to economical technological options. Like excessive centralization, excessive decentralization limits the options of safe delivery of drinking water services. Some areas that may require provincial and national government overseeing must address concerns about environmental issues and see to it that there are adequate safeguards to ensure safe drinking water quality standards.

Addressing Poverty and Other Public Goods Concerns

Given that the CVWS Project has a poverty focus, it is to be seen if the technology that was adopted and the institutions that were created help in the effort towards poverty alleviation. It needs to be appreciated that as one moves to a higher level of service like pipe water supply, there is an increase in the per capital cost as well as in the Operation and Maintenance (O&M) costs. Within a given fiscal constraint, a higher level of service would restrict the outreach of the project due to the high unit cost and also restrict the ability of the poorer sections of the society to connect to the service level even if there is access due to the constraints imposed by the high O&M costs.
For a water and sanitation project with a poverty focus, in a context where nearly a third of the population in the municipalities still do not have access to safe drinking water and about half the population does not have access to sanitary toilets, a focus on piped water supply and providing connections on the basis of ability to pay rather than some social criteria is questionable. As per the national government guidelines, level 3 service should be provided on the basis of full cost recovery. Hence, a project with a poverty focus that is funded by a grant should not be providing a level 3 service, but concentrating on level 1 & 2 to achieve full coverage for water and sanitation. Only if the basic level of service was achieved could there be any justification for providing level 3 service on the basis of grant funding.
It is estimated that the cost of providing safe drinking water would cost US$ 2.08 million annually, while that of piped water will cost US$ 15.55 million annually for the Southeast Asian region (Hutton & Haller, 2004). As per these estimates the difference in costs in providing safe drinking water and providing safe piped water supply is about seven and a half times more. This additional cost will come without a corresponding increase in the benefits of providing water. In the absence of an exploration and appreciation of alternate technologies to piped water supply, there is pressure to provide piped water supply that strain the fragile fiscal base of the municipalities. This fiscal drain affects the ability of the municipality to execute other welfare schemes targeted at the poor.
The inherited technological and institutional infrastructure of the CVWS Project and the manner in which the incentives are structured, restricts the associations and the cooperatives as a limited service provider. There are no incentives to these new institutions to extend the pipelines to the far flung areas in the municipality and address the needs of the poor. Hence they function very much like a water district without the responsibility of repaying back the capital cost. The responsibility of accepting a public grant on behalf of all the citizens of the municipality (and not just the association and cooperative members) and working for a larger public mandate for water and sanitation in the municipality is not understood by them. To transform these associations to a professional water and sanitation agency requires a larger mandate that is not possible without local government overseeing and an allocation of targeted subsidy.
Critical to the removal of poverty is a livelihood paradigm that aims at asset creation. Central to asset creation is the provision of public goods and access to these goods by the poor. In order to effectively deal with issues of equitable access to drinking water, sustainability of water resources and reducing the vulnerability of the poor due to uncertainties – natural disasters and calamities, there is a need to develop the local government’s fiscal foundations and policy framework to ensure that the public goods element of water are addressed. As a public good like water is critical for the life and livelihood of every citizen, it is seen that in Sta. Catalina and in La Libertad, the local government had to move in to put on track a bankrupt cooperative that had shut down for three years and an association that misused the public funds to such an extent that there was no money to pay the contractors who built the system. In Pamplona, Vallehermoso, the municipal government firmly supports and facilitates the functioning of the water associations.
Though municipalities such as Sta. Catalina and Pamplona have evolved mechanisms of working together with the associations, there are unclear rules of overseeing by the Municipality. The regulatory structures like the Registrar of Societies and the Cooperative Development Authority are too distant from the concerns of water and sanitation in the municipality. They can only deal with organizational matters and ensure democratic elections but cannot address concerns of livelihoods and access to water. There is no overseeing of organizational matters such as salary and incentives to board members and employees that can ensure that bankruptcies like that in Sta. Catalina and misappropriation like that in La Libertad do not happen again.
In Sibulan, one of the two water sources has traces of arsenic. As against a permissible

level of .05 ppm, the groundwater source was found to contain the level of .07 ppm. The Sibulan water district claims that since the water from the two sources, groundwater and spring water, are mixed in the pipeline the arsenic level drops to the level of .02 ppm that is within the permissible limit. While it would take a hydrological engineer and a water quality expert to figure out whether the contamination level can be evenly spread to .02 ppm across the pipelines, given the different areas that they serve and the topography and gradient of the land, this is a case that calls for not only state regulation but also intervention. While the Sibulan board wishes to hush up the case and the Sibulan water manager prepares a file to ensure that she is not made a scape-goat, it is clear that the monthly repayment installments and the lack of capital limits the options of the Sibulan board to mitigate the health risks. It is prudent that the two sources be detached, the people are informed about the health risks in the contaminated area and provided with arsenic removal technologies. This intervention requires both local and provincial government intervention.

The local government structure provides a constitutional and institutional policy infrastructure to scale up what are identified as local, decentralized and community initiatives in resource and water management (Brillantes, 2003). The rational option seems to be an alignment with the local government system in a way that local government and community interface is strengthened. It also ensures that an integrated approach to water and sanitation is adopted that addresses the concerns of all in the municipality rather than just members of the association and the cooperatives. The local government structure would also ensure that transitions from an earlier paradigm to a more progressive one that advocates a more substantive democratic participation would be possible to bring about greater efficiencies in the delivery of drinking water and sanitation.

Demand Driven Approach and Substantive Democracy

In Oriental Negros it is seen that the planning, technological choice, contracting and construction were carried out by professional agencies without empowering local communities to take these decisions on drinking water. The water associations and cooperatives see their primary function related to the operation and maintenance of the water scheme that was handed over to them and even shy away from addressing concerns of proper drainage at the public standposts. As such, they are locked in a framework that has been handed over to them and they have little capacity to think beyond the logic of the structure that has been provided to them. Even though the Governing Board of these associations and cooperatives are created democratically on the basis of elections, there is no substantive democracy in the form of sharing information and responsibilities with the communities through regular meetings, barangay level associations or groups representing women’s concerns.
Even though sanitation was a stated objective of the project, this is an area of complete neglect. At the moment the people have a choice of either the pour flush latrine or a modern cistern. There was not much that was done about sanitation in terms of informing people of various technologies or creating institutional mechanisms for creating and sustaining a supply-chain for toilets. It is reported that some hygiene education was conducted at the commencement of the project, but that has not been sustained at the community or school level. In India democratic devolution has created innovative models of community monitoring of sanitation that help reinforce basic hygiene and sanitation messages in a manner where peer pressure acts as a catalyst to sustain safe hygiene and sanitation practices leading to better health outcomes.
There were no records or systems in place for water quality testing and an action plan for remedial measures. Water was tested at the source at the time of project construction and that is all that is mentioned about this aspect officially. There is no water testing at the household level that is supplied with piped water and no focused approach to handling of water at the household level. If an epidemic were to occur, the fiduciary responsibility would rest with the local government. However, the most vulnerable are the poor and those who live in far-flung areas who are neglected by both the municipality and the association (or cooperatives). They have no basic information about the quality of drinking water they have access to. The least that the water association or the municipal government can provide them with is information and access to simple household or community level water purification devises along with safe hygiene and sanitation messages. These are some public concerns of water and sanitation that an association or a cooperative bestowed with public funds cannot shy away from.
Many of these concerns can be addressed through an adoption of a demand driven approach to water and sanitation. People’s participation, empowerment and ownership are fundamental to the concept of demand driven approach to drinking water and sanitation. Such an approach being adopted by rural water and sanitation programs since the mid-nineties in countries like India amount to fiscal transfers to the local governments and the communities which are entrusted with the responsibilities of community mobilization, planning, technological choice, procurement, contracting, hygiene and sanitation education, monitoring and evaluation and taking steps to ensure the sustainability of the project. This takes away the design, execution and management of the project from professional managers and empowers the local communities through networks with professional groups and non-governmental organizations to run the project in a democratic manner in the true spirit of devolution. This approach of democratic devolution has ensured about 40 – 60 percent cost and implementation savings in India compared to projects undertaken by the water boards (World Bank, 1999). Transparency in the everyday activities of the association not only ensures direct accountability but also ensures a democratic safeguard to ensure that the affluent do not capture subsidies that are meant to address concerns of poverty as has happened in the CVWS Project.

La Libertad Project

The service provision and reach of these projects can be better explained with reference to a case study of a municipality, La Libertad. Of the 7,019 households, about 1,231 households or about 18 percent of the total number of households have piped water connections (level 3) and 814 households have access to public faucets (level 2) which adds up to about 30 percent of the population. The remaining 70 percent of the population depends on wells and springs, of which about ¾ depend on spring sources. It is estimated that nearly a fourth of the population does not have access to safe drinking water. The level 1 service in this municipality is provided by 4 deep wells, 132 shallow wells, 62 covered dug wells, 253 open dug wells, 57 springs and a sole rainwater harvesting unit. It is little wonder that this province of 25 municipalities recorded 26,023 cases of diarrhea related deaths in 2001 (Provincial Government of Negros Oriental, 2003). Given that the basic level of safe drinking water was not achieved in this municipality, the provision of level 3 service to a rich minority of the population has been an abuse of the subsidy earmarked for poverty alleviation.
With respect to sanitation, about 4,200 households or about 60 percent have access to pour flush latrines and sanitary latrines. However, nearly 80 percent of these toilets have unlined pits which coupled with a high rainfall results in bacteriological contamination of groundwater and spring sources. Between the lined sanitary pits and the unlined pour flush toilets there are no safe technological options of latrines that are available to the people. There is a greater need of information, expertise and the creation of a supply chain to ensure better health outcomes. Effective inputs in the safe disposal of human faeces would ensure that the water sources are not contaminated and lead to better health outcomes. However, the present institutions that rely of civil engineers for managing water and sanitation focus on a top-heavy water system without looking at sanitation which is the major cause of water contamination.

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