A sudden emergency

Planning on visiting the homeland anytime soon? Be sure that you avoid the eastern part of Metro Manila, unless you end up staying at a place that has no water.

The harassed denizens of the National Capital Region (AKA Metro Manila) found themselves without water coming out of their taps this week, getting only half a day’s warning from the their water utility firm about the emergency.

To recall, two companies divided the metropolis in half by virtue of the franchise they received from the government more than a decade ago.

Usually, residents of specific areas are advised days or even weeks ahead if there will be an interruption of supply. Most of the time, the two companies – Manila Water and Maynilad – either install new pipes or repair broken ones.

Not this time.

This week, they simply cut the flow of water from large areas of Metro Manila because the available supply could not meet the demand. And now with the onset of summer, the demand is sure to go up, as it does every summer.

One thing we Filipinos are extra proud of is our cleanliness. Almost all of us bathe every day.

Incidentally, unlike in the US where taking a bath is different from taking a shower, bathtubs are not that common hereabouts. So whether one soaks in the tub or goes for a hot or cold shower, we consider either or both “taking a bath.”

During the summer months, a good many of us bathe twice a day, even thrice when the heat in the city is unbearable.

This week, we were told that the La Mesa dam in Quezon City which supplies all of the water needs of eastern Metro Manila has hit critical levels. As of this week, it is at its lowest level in 12 years, and the supply will continue to shrink until the arrival of the rainy season.

That’s not even the worst of it. Since we have just hit the first summer month, the next two to three months will be horrible for most. Water is almost certain to be rationed and residents have been asked to store as much water as they can in pails. The bigger the pails, the better.

This will force many to resort to the third form of bathing, after a soak in a tub or a shower. The “buhos” system is when one has to bathe oneself with nothing but a “tabo” and a pail of water.

Yup, the good old “tabo” which is considered a necessity in all Filipino homes will come in handy in the next few months. Bathing with just a pail is difficult, but not impossible.

It’s times like these when we realize how precious a commodity water is.

As for flushing toilets…well, that becomes a real problem when not enough h2o is stored by a household to take care of everyone’s needs. I figure some people will be doing their thing in their offices when the situation at home becomes desperate.

Also, permanent residents of eastern Metro Manila will be spending their weekends at the homes of friends or relatives in the western part of the metropolis.

What they are the two water companies and the local and national government to do to ease the suffering of the 20 million or so residents of what is also known as the NCR?

They will certainly ask everyone to conserve, but this is something that they should have done weeks or even months ago.

The government will try cloud seeding but this has never proven to be little more than a palliative solution. What the dam needs is plenty of rain, not scattered rain showers.

Some will resort to drilling deep wells, but this can be too expensive for normal households. Also, there is no guarantee that drilling for water will result in potable or even clean ground water being extracted.

There is, however, a bit of positive news, at least for the time being.

Further away, the Angat Dam is still at normal levels, which is good. This source supplies the western part of Metro Manila, but there is no certainty that the regular flow can be sustained if the El Nino weather phenomenon persists, and less-than-expected rains fall to resupply both Angat and La Mesa come June or July.

What is happening now is further proof that global warming is causing a lot of chaos all over the planet. It may not be as deadly as tornados or tsunamis, but having no water is also unbearable. We need it to survive as much as we need air, and for millions of Filipinos living in Metro Manila, this is a time of great hardship.

Just writing about this is making me thirsty.