CHR calls on gov’t to ensure public access to water amid COVID-19
MANILA, Philippines — The government is obliged to ensure that citizens have access to safe drinking water and sanitation amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said on Thursday.
“[CHR] received reports that thousands of households in the country experience water service disconnection due to people’s inability to pay their bills on time in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the commission spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said in a statement.
“The CHR underscores the obligation of the government to guarantee people’s access to water and sanitation, particularly those who are in the most vulnerable situations,” she added.
According to De Guia, the public must have continuous access to water because the primary component for overcoming the health crisis is hand washing and remaining sanitized.
The CHR spokesperson warned that if water supplies are disrupted, the country could see an increase in COVID-19 cases on top of the current surge.
The country is currently witnessing a surge in COVID-19 cases, with over 99,000 active cases as of Thursday. According to the Department of Health, the country set a new record for a single-day increase in infections, with 8,773 new cases.
The previous high was reported on Monday, with 8,019 new cases.
“While we are always reminded that one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of the disease is to regularly wash our hands using soap and water, not every Filipino has the privilege of accessing adequate water and proper sanitation,” De Guia said.
“Water, a universally-recognized human right, is essential for most aspects of everyday life and crucial for public health. If water services were disrupted, it could mean spikes in coronavirus outbreaks, particularly in high-density communities where social distancing is not possible,” she stressed.
When the pandemic forced strict lockdowns, leaving many people without a means of income, water companies gave consumers wiggle room. Several low-income households are also called lifeline consumers, which means they can use water utilities for free.
INQUIRER.net contacted the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System’s Regulatory Office about the matter, but it had yet to respond as of the time of posting.
On the other hand, CHR urged the government to implement policies prohibiting water disconnections and the cutting off of other services, citing the fact that the COVID-19 situation has not improved despite a year of lockdown.
At the same time, CHR said that the national government must assist water concessionaires in continuing operating despite some households failing to pay their bills.
“Considering the compounded financial hardships faced by the majority of Filipinos, we urge the government to strictly implement policies that ensure people’s continuous access to clean water while we are still in the middle of a national health crisis,” De Guia said.
“Previous issuances regarding deferred payment of bills and suspension of water supply should still be put in place, especially that the current Covid-19 situation in the country has not improved yet after a year of being into community quarantine. Similarly, the government must also financially support water utilities to guarantee the sustainability of services while prioritizing the welfare of people over profit,” she added.
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