A lack of access to water and sanitation has been a longstanding problem for the Philippines, which has been exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic.
This issue demands more than infrastructure, but also requires education and activism to reform pre-existing attitudes towards water and its gendered roles.
Changing understandings of WASH and creating vital relationships to tackling this issue are being championed by social enterprises, with their usefulness becoming more necessary in time.
As the Philippines cannot support some of the most vital measures towards preventing transmission of COVID-19, there have been serious health concerns. The ongoing spread of the virus has highlighted the shortfalls of our interconnected global system: inefficient food supply, a lack of water and sanitation infrastructure, and thinly-stretched healthcare systems are just the tip of the iceberg of the areas that have struggled throughout the pandemic. Strict lockdowns are unearthing class divisions and stripping citizens of their ability to provide, healthcare systems have been vastly overwhelmed, and overall economic stagnation is forcing governments to reprioritise.
On a base level, however, inconsistent access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities is weakening the Philippines from being able to protect themselves from transmission of the disease. This is not an issue exclusive to the Philippines; the World Health Organisation estimates that around three billion people across the world have no access to basic hand-washing facilities, two billion rely on unsafe water supplies and close to 673 million practice open defecation. Within the Philippines, there are an estimated three million that rely on unsafe water, with another seven million that lack access to improved sanitation facilities. Disadvantaged communities are predisposed to social and economic challenges, especially during the global pandemic, and this only further exposes them to a swathe of external infections and illnesses. But in most cases, the lack of safe and reliable access to water creates ripples that extend beyond nourishment and health. Even the laborious task of retrieving water can be often relegated to women, impairing their ability to take up work or pursue education, and trapping them into an unending cycle of poverty.
Water insecurity demands more than a refocusing of material provisions. The pandemic has highlighted a need for re-education and reaffirmation on multiple fronts. This is incredibly broad, both concerning the scope of the issue and potential approaches. Governments are finding their hands full, especially those in developing countries, meaning many of these key challenges have taken a backseat to the ongoing health crisis. Challenging the many nuances of poverty and inequality requires a multifaceted approach, one that can not only create material change but that can help to usher in a better understanding of WASH and its necessity. While internationalist institutions such as The World Bank and USAID have recognised the need to stimulate investment in Filipino WASH infrastructure, changing local attitudes and understandings towards the topic will require local conversations and collaborations.
Looking towards this open space, social enterprises have a prime opportunity to capitalise. Social enterprises have been growing exponentially, with over 160,000 organisations working to improve living standards within the country and the vast majority being small to medium in size. With a constant demand to reinvigorate the health system and actively empower citizens on the ground, these actors are mobilising to improve their country’s provisions at a rapid rate. These actors have worked to create sustainable outcomes for those who have been affected by infrastructural deprivation and past crises, regularly bringing attention to ongoing issues and creating a sense of urgency, but are no longer restricted to being driven by lone actors or widespread non-government organisations. Social enterprises are now rapidly expanding organisations that have taken on a larger purpose in a variety of areas, aiming to tackle the many faces of inequality.
This potential has not gone unnoticed by the government; the Philippine Development Plan would even mention the usefulness of social enterprises in honing in on development gaps, creating positive social change to complement federal goals. Steps towards creating a “culture of handwashing” between the Department of Education and the Department of Health have already seen calls for help from social enterprises. And as infections have started to lower, enterprises like Masy Consultants are looking to connect with young professionals in the region to champion a long-lasting co-operation and create new WASH movements on both a national and regional level. Investments into these enterprises tend to filter back into the community, equipping young students and professionals with skills and the knowledge needed to educate others. They characterise and update a local understanding of the importance of WASH, while paving paths for international co-operation that will be vital for the 21st century. This empowers a wide scope of people — whether youths, women, young professionals or sanitary engineers — to take this information, create constructive relationships, and refocus the local understanding of WASH to become more efficient and inclusive. While material constructions can empower some, this long-term empowerment of Filipinos will ensure a longer-lasting change.
Masy Consultants have mobilised many young professionals across a suite of programs to take an active role in the refurbishment and construction of WASH facilities in needy villages
There is still room for improvement, however. Creating a unity between government departments and private enterprises can help to rapidly combine public health orders with manpower, innovation and activism. Integrating these organisations into supply chains and creating the capacity to share knowledge among enterprises would help us better understand the impact of this collaboration, as well as aiding new professionals looking to create their own organisations and movements. Structured support will go a long way in ensuring that this steady growth of eager professionals and organisations will continue to grow, contributing to a better future for the Philippines. With social enterprises maintaining momentum and filling these gaps, the future of WASH is looking to be in good hands.
Noah D is a student from The University of Melbourne, who currently works for Masy Consultants as a Digital Communications Officer.
About Masy Consultants Masy Consultants is a social enterprise that provides clients with services ranging from project management and consultations to community engagement in the areas of clean water, sanitation, and renewable energy. With a team of professionals based across Australia and the Asia-Pacific, Masy remains results-driven, collaborative and resilient when it comes to delivering the best possible outcomes. Learn more at www.masyconsultants.org. For more information about this release, please contact us: Email: email@example.com Follow us on Facebook: fb.com/masyconsultants Like us on LinkedIn: linkedin.com/company/masyconsultants