Water and Sanitation in the City of San Fernando

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Water and Sanitation in the City of San Fernando,
La Union, Philippines

By: Mayor Mary Jane C. Ortega

City of San Fernando

La Union, Philippines

The City of San Fernando was converted into a city on March 20, 1998 and I was elected the first lady mayor. It is composed of 118,000 residents and since we are the regional capital, we have an additional 60,000 transients on an area of 10,0526 hectares.

One of the first committees I formed was a technical working group made up of our city engineer, the provincial engineer and the district engineer of the national government to make a comprehensive study of our drainage problems. When I received an invitation from the World Bank to avail of the WDDP loan, I was told that the loan is for drainage and sewerage. No sewerage, no loan. I argued that I cannot borrow for what I am not responsible for, since sewerage is under the water district not under the city. The WB relented on condition that I do mitigating measures for or waste water.

Under the loan, I constructed drainages and bought a vacuum tanker and dredging machine. With the dredging machine, we were able to get 65 truckloads of garbage since the people have been using the creek as a garbage disposal area. Manually, we dredged additional 993 baskets of garbage. The Vacuum tanker was able to clear our existing drainages from garbage and silt. When the residents saw our efforts, most of them stopped throwing their garbage into the creek and are now observing proper segregation and disposal of waste.

In 2000, as a program of the national government, we conducted a Minimum Basic Needs Survey and to my surprise, I saw that we had 1,000 homes out of 24,000 without any sanitary toilets. Did the previous governments not give water sealed toilets? They did… but the problem was that these homes did not have water nor any place for a septic tank and thus, could not use the water sealed toilets. I heard of the dry technology of sanitation, ECOSAN, and I offered to try it out as a pilot, as I set aside P1,000,000 or $20,000. CAPS, the local NGO pushing the use of ECOSAN, informed their partners ISSUE in Netherlands, and in turn, ISSUE set aside Euro312,000 for three years for capacity building, counterparting on infrastructure, and study tours.

While working on ECOSAN, we discovered we did not have a Sanitation Plan and again were shocked to discover that our Sanitation Code was passed in 1947 and has not been updated since. I started becoming an advocate on Sanitation. How many cities would be like San Fernando?

USAID ECO-ASIA at this time came in as a partner and we were convinced to replicate a waste water treatment plant for our wet market and would also cover the central business district. We set aside P6,000,000 or $120,000 in our budget and we will implement it this year.

Our partners ISSUE of Netherlands learned about this and introduced me to SNS BANK, the fourth largest bank of Netherlands who has committed to help their country in helping developing countries meet with the MDG on water and sanitation. I am now preparing a proposal where we would like to borrow P5M or $100,000 for our slaughterhouse waste water treatment plant, and P10M or $200,000 for a septage treatment plant, using the reed technology. At present, our slaughterhouse has a pond for waste water but it is not treated. On the other hand, we discovered that the commercial de-sludgers are supposed to bring their sludge to a septage treatment plant one hour away or to another which is 3 hours away. What assurance do we have that they do not just flush the sludge into our San Fernando Bay?

As Executive Vice President of the League of Cities of the Philippines composed of 117 cities, I asked for a survey of how many cities are doing or intending to do something for water and sanitation and the answer was a measly six cities. In our country, only 8% has sewerage systems, and we are third from the lowest in Asia. In our recent Philippine Convention of Cities, we had a workshop on water and sanitation but we believe much more has to be done to generate interest in this field. We need multinationals to help us but most important is to be able to convince our local chief executives that this is a priority since it has an impact on our health and it is for the preservation of our bodies of water.

Today, our city is not only a model on solid waste management with an engineered landfill with clay liners and a model material recovery facility; we are also a model for clean air; a pilot for ECOSAN; but we hope to also be a model on water and sanitation.

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