Thursday, February 4, 2010

Sustainability: Access to Clean Water and Sanitation in the Philippines

Upon returning to Chicago after visiting Manila I found myself smiling thinking about the wonderful experiences I had just shared. In such a short period of time, I had the opportunity to indulge in so many delicacies; a complete gastronomical experience in ten days! Yet, if I wanted something to drink how accessible would water be? Over the next five years, will access to clean water sources in the Philippines improve?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) we are in a state of a “silent emergency” as billions of people have limited access to clean water and basic sanitation. Specifically, the WHO predicts by the year 2015 global sanitation will not be on target to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Additionally, we are told that many of the affected populations live in the rural areas of Asia and Africa. Of course it goes without saying; those most affected are the indigent as seen throughout our travels in both urban and rural Manila.

On our first day in Manila we took a walk to Robinson Mall where it was obvious that there were two categories of individuals that call the Philippines home: “the haves and the have-nots”. In 2004 UNICEF and the WHO estimated that the disparity noted between the two categories was one of the leading causes for mortality and morbidity affecting children most frequently. UNICEF reported that globally, children died at a rate of nearly 4000 a day. Many of the deaths suffered by the children are directly related to issues surrounding access to clean water. What can we do to assure a healthy future for today’s children? Sustainability for our children can only occur if we educate everyone on the need to maintain water sources globally.

“Water and sanitation are among the most important determinants of public health” (WHO).

As a registered nurse, my primary focus includes providing an environment that will allow an individual to reach their best possible state of health by focusing on the “entire” person. Certainly, the holistic approach is not new to the teaching of Adamson University. Father Nonong Fajardo described the Vincentian approach as one that embraces Maslow’s hierarchy (Abraham Maslow, 1987). According to the theory, there are five “needs” that comprise the hierarchy. The image of an inverted pyramid depicts the first step which includes the most primitive requirement of food and shelter, followed by the needs of safety, love, esteem and lastly the need for self-actualization. The ability to be seen as a “healthy personality” does not occur until all five steps are contemplated. An individual does not feel the need of the second step until all the demands of the first step have been satisfied. As stated by Father Nonong, “you must feed the body before you feed the soul”.

There is also a moral cost associated with the lack of access to clean water and sanitation that can be seen in the faces of the poor; it is the look of not simply disappointment but of humiliation. Fortunately, Adamson University has intervened and has stopped the negative progression in the population previously living along side the railroad. The restoration of pride and the beginning stages of self-actualization are now present in the adults living within the relocation sites.

Ultimately, access to clean water is essential to protect the population from exposure to infections carried by contaminated water sources. Poorly contained trash, combined with water becomes a breeding ground for disease carrying agents such a dengue fever. As a registered nurse and an epidemiologist, I must stress the need for better control of clean water especially where there are open containers of garbage. Clearly, more education is required focusing on proper garbage disposal for people living in both the urban and in the rural settings. Certainly, the results are the same no matter where garbage is disposed improperly; the potential for disease increases.

In closing, access to clean water in the future is dependant on our behavioral habits exercised today. We must follow the lead of the residents of Payatas. Through their efforts of recycling, the world is truly a healthier place.

By Renee Partida

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