Water supply and sanitation systems have withstood three strong typhoons in facilities rebuilt after Haiyan, the typhoon that hit the Philippines in 2013, thanks to pro-active, community-oriented planning, good data and technically rigorous design.
The Philippines has an abundance of water resources, but rapid population growth has increased demand while more frequent droughts, more intense rainfall events, and shifting and stronger typhoons pose increasing risks to water supplies.
USAID realized this was a need when it established the Water Security for Resilient Economic Growth and Stability project, known as Be Secure, in 2012 to improve management and planning for water security and improve water service delivery in six major cities.
Then, in 2013, the Philippines was hit by one of the most intense typhoons in its history, Haiyan, which killed 6,300 people and caused some $2 billion in damages. The massive reconstruction effort that followed sparked greater attention to the need to build resilience.
Less than a year into implementation, Be Secure shifted its focus to assist the hard-hit province of Leyte, where collapsed pump stations, crushed pipelines, contaminated reservoirs, and obliterated computer and information management systems created opportunities not only to repair the infrastructure, but also to “build back better.”
“The damage was so extensive, so large and so awful in so many ways, and the effort to rebuild afterwards brought with it a huge learning curve,” said Mona Grieser, Chief of Party for the project. Be Secure provided technical support to local governments to reconstruct buildings to withstand high winds, re-site pipe systems in areas less exposed to flood risk, and redesign water storage tanks to protect against storm damage.
Through improvements to the water supply for 17 schools, eight municipal buildings and four health facilities, Be Secure helped deliver improved drinking water to nearly 1.8 million people and improved sanitation to more than 1 million. In subsequent years, these facilities endured three strong typhoons without any significant damage.
Capitalizing on the lessons learned during reconstruction, Be Secure conducted activities across five provinces aimed at long-term water security, such as improving water utility planning, reducing disaster risk, strengthening water sector governance and raising public awareness about extreme weather events.
In one key invention, Be Secure helped a water service provider determine whether intake lines at a treatment plant in Leyte were at risk from flooding or landslides, which could potentially disrupt water delivery to nearby communities.
To the surprise of water officials, the vulnerability assessment found that the intake system was stable, but that the riverbank underneath the plant itself was at risk of collapse. Subsequently, provincial and local governments invested $54,000 to reinforce the structure.
“It’s important to emphasize the technical work,” Grieser said. “While it doesn’t always allow for an immediate impact, it enables leaders to make critical policy decisions that will have real, lasting impact.”
Another good example of promoting understanding of future risks was the role of experts from the Manila Observatory. Working with the Colorado-based National Center for Atmospheric Research, the Observatory provided downscaled climate data that helped water utilities and local governments determine what climate impacts could mean for them. This input energized leaders in Be Secure’s partner cities and gave them better data for planning, Grieser said.
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Erin Martin has worked in international development for more than 20 years and has consulted on a dozen USAID projects including SERVIR, FEWS NET and ATLAS.