MANILA

Bunye: The 6 blind men and the elephant

Speaking Out

READING various comments both in traditional and social media on the current water shortage, I could not but feel like listening to the six blind men, in that famous Indian parable, who were trying to figure out what an elephant looks like.

Just to review.

The first blind man happened to touch the broad and sturdy side of the animal and immediately concluded: "It is a wall."

The second touched the sharp tip of the tusk and concluded: "It is a spear."

The third happened to touch the trunk of the animal. His reaction: "It is a big snake."

The fourth felt the animals knee. He proclaimed his discovery. "It is like a tree."

The fifth disagreed, having touched the ear. "You are all wrong. It is a fan."

The sixth, who sounded all-knowing, decided. "It is like a rope." He happened to touch the elephant's tail.

Moral of the parable: It is dangerous to make a judgment or a conclusion based on incomplete facts.

So at the earliest opportunity, I tried to get the facts straight from the source. And my source -- whom I consider very credible -- happens to be Gerry Ablaza.

Among many other past positions in his illustrious career, Ablaza was a former CEO of Manila Water and currently one of its directors.

I constantly bump into Gerry as we both sit in the board of Bank of the Philippine Islands.

Last week, Gerry got a good ribbing from fellow BPI directors, who took him to task for the "liquidity problem" (pun intended) being suffered by quite a number of Metro Manilans residing in the East Zone. Given the limited time to discuss, Gerry just gave a quick answer but promised to give a fuller written explanation soonest.

True enough, just hours after we adjourned, I received Gerry's executive brief in my mailbox.

Reading Gerry's brief, I believe he explained very well the following issues:

1) What has caused the water shortage in the East Zone?

2) Why was the impact so severe when the deficit is only 9 per cent of total network demand? 3) What was done to address the emergency?

4) Why was the water supply not predicted and prepared for?

5) What has happened to these contingency measures?

It does not take a rocket scientist to understand that if there is not enough water to distribute, we will certainly experience a water shortage. It is a supply problem. It is not a question of distribution efficiency. If it had been the latter, I would surely join my neighbor columnist Jullie Yap Daza in asking Manila Water people to go jump in the lake.

But it is not the case. On the contrary, Manila Water's distribution system is world class by any standard. Imagine being able reduce systems loss from a high of 63 per cent in 1997 (when Manila Water took over the East Zone) to only 12 per cent!

So the question now is: If the availability of water supply was the problem, why did Manila Water not anticipate the shortage and prepare for it?

Again, here are the facts, according to Ablaza:

"Manila Water has not been remiss in strongly advocating for the development of new water sources for many, many years. It was evident that the supply from Angat Dam will not be sufficient and that new water sources needed to be developed. In 2012, we submitted a Business Plan to the previous MWSS administration which carried many proposals for new water sources. It is well-known that we got locked into arbitration with MWSS in 2013, and therefore our approved Business Plan only came out in May 2015.

"The current Chief Regulator of MWSS stated the other day, 'Manila Water has been warning about a looming water shortage if we don't have a new water source soon. They mentioned it again last year.'"

According to Ablaza, given the uncertainty of new water sources coming on line, Manila Water has prepared some contingency supply measures. Eg. Cardona Water Treatment Plant and the re-energization of deep wells shut down by the NWRB when Manila Water's concession operation began. But at best, the total output from these measures will still be way below what is needed in a crisis situation. They will still be a drop in the bucket, so to speak.

So what is the long-term solution?

Ablaza ended his note:

"Beyond these short term measures, however, it is critically important that all of us -- Manila Water, the MWSS and all concerned government agencies -- work together to fast-track and aggressively implement plans for the development of new water sources. This is imperative not only towards ensuring the sufficiency of water supply but as importantly towards providing for resiliency. All of our eggs (water) are in one basket (bucket)." (Emphasis and parenthesis supplied.)

Note: If you want to get a complete picture of the elephant, just click this link.


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