Sunday, 17 January 2010

Pasig river rehab tops $1-B USAID projects

By Edson C. Tandoc Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/nation/view/20100116-247764/Pasig-river-rehab-tops-1-B-USAID-projects

LOOKING into the trash-filled canals that wind through crowded communities and open markets and then empty their murky waters into the Pasig River, it is hard to imagine that the district of Sta. Ana was once a center of agriculture, trading and the arts.

Sta. Ana is one of the country’s richest archaeological sites, being “one of the most historic districts” along the Pasig River where Chinese merchants came in their junks bringing metals, silk and fine porcelain to trade with the residents.

The Sta. Ana Church, founded by the Franciscans in 1578, was the first mission to be built outside the Intramuros Walled City.

The once flourishing community, however, has fallen prey to decades of neglect, just like the historic river that runs beside it.

But starting this year, private groups are working to reverse what went wrong—one public market at a time.

Market makeover

The Sta. Ana public market will undergo a makeover this year under the USAID-Rotary Pasig River Improvement Project.

Launched last week, the project is aimed not just at reviving the Pasig River but also at alleviating poverty by boosting tourism in the historic district of Sta. Ana through a cleaner environment.

The sad story of the Pasig River is a “combination of years and years of not investing in the necessary infrastructure,” said acting USAID mission director Elzadia Washington.

Improving the Pasig River is just one of the five projects of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Rotary Club International that address this need to build proper infrastructure in the Philippines.

The projects in the Philippines of this international collaboration are worth $1.1 billion.

One of 3 world sites

Still struggling to recover from floods that devastated many communities late last year, the Philippines was selected as one of three sites in the world by the partnership because of its pressing and clear need for water sanitation, Washington said.

The two other countries are the Dominican Republic and Ghana where the five projects, focusing on water supply and sanitation, are estimated to benefit 9,500 people with piped water supply and 168,000 others with improved wastewater treatment services.

“If we can reduce the amount of solid waste, flooding because of clogged drainage systems will be minimized,” said Washington.

The Pasig River Improvement Project was launched last week on board one of the vessels of the Pasig River Ferry Service that took off from the Sta. Ana Ferry Station at the back of the public market.

The project will start with the putting up of a small wastewater treatment facility at the Sta. Ana public market, said Lisa Lumbao, head of the USAID Philippine Sanitation Alliance.

The market has a septic tank where wastewater from the stalls flow, but then the septic tank just empties the dirty water into the Pasig River.

There is a need for a treatment facility to clean the water before it is released into the river, said Lumbao. Construction will begin soon and will take about five months.

The public market has about 300 stall owners, according to Olympia Bitchara, 66, the president of the vendors’ association.

But keeping the environment clean also involves changing people’s attitudes and behavior, Lumbao said. Thus, the project will also institute solid waste management not only in the public market but also in six surrounding barangays as well as promote proper hygiene in the schools.

Reducing poverty

This will include providing clean toilets and sinks as well as teaching students the proper hand washing techniques. Schools will also be provided with drinking stations.

“To reduce poverty in Sta. Ana through tourism, (we) need to reduce the amount of garbage in the back of the market and open defecation and urination,” Lumbao said.

These will not only help save the Pasig River but will also help save people from illnesses, she said.

These initiatives will be replicated in Paco, Manila, and Baesa in Quezon City.

Four other projects are to be implemented in the country under the USAID-Rotary Club partnership—sewerage and wastewater management in San Fernando, La Union, and potable water and hygiene education in the cities of Zamboanga, Dipolog and Davao.

“The cost (of pollution) is extremely high, in terms of health care and of children kept out of schools,” said Washington.

“If we can improve water quality, we can improve health and the economy,” she added.

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