MANILA — The health department, World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF on Thursday called on the country’s local governments to prioritize and invest in sanitation, noting that unhygienic conditions could lead to the spread of diseases in communities.
In a statement issued during the observance of World Toilet Day, the Department of Health (DOH) said the Philippines is on the same trajectory as the world on being "alarmingly off-track to deliver sanitation for all by 2030."
"At the current rate of global progress, safely managed sanitation for all will not be a reality until the twenty-second century," the statement read, even as, according to the DOH, WHO and UNICEF, the problem with sanitation is "readily solvable", unlike the COVID-19 pandemic.
The DOH said some 50.3 million Filipinos or around 10 million families do not have access to safely managed sanitation services.
Of these, 24 million individuals use limited or unimproved toilets, or none at all.
“Technologies and approaches are available and just waiting for us to make the first step to invest. Only by leveraging government resources with household investments and private sector support would we be able to reach as many communities in the fastest time possible,” said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.
The WHO representative in the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, said inaction on sanitation would bring “greater costs” in the country.
“Implementing the Sustainable Development Goal on sanitation is an investment… Untreated waste from poor sanitation services has negative effects on the environment,” Abeyasinghe said.
“[Poor sanitation] can spread diseases that cause poor health and nutrition, loss of income, decreased productivity and missed educational opportunities,” he added.
Some P30 billion investment will be needed every year to reach the country’s access to sanitation target.
“This is 13 percent of the additional internal revenue allotment that local government units will receive by 2022, valued at P225.3 billion per year,” the statement read.
In 2019, Health Undesecretary Eric Domingo said some 3.5 million Filipinos have no sanitary toilets.
An additional 700,000 toilets need to be constructed nationwide until 2030, or around 70,000 toilets annually for the next 10 years.
Problem of sanitation in communities
Based on the 2019 Field Health Services Information System cited by the health department, around a third of the 42,046 barangays in the Philippines have been certified for having abandoned the practice of open defecation in their communities.
But only 6 percent of the 1,634 cities and municipalities in the country have achieved zero open defecation status or achieved the Grade 1 sanitation certification.
Basic sanitation status, or Grade 2 sanitation certification has been awarded to over 300 barangays nationwide and in 2 Maguindanao municipalities “where improved sanitation facilities are now available not only in each household, but also in every public institution and public place in the communities,” the DOH said.
UNICEF’s Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov, meanwhile, said the country should not wait for another pandemic before sanitation could be prioritized.
“The recent typhoons in the Philippines have shown how vulnerable our toilets and the sanitation systems they are connected to. This impacts children greatly and will only get worse as the impacts of climate change increase,” she said.
While sustainable access to managed sanitation could be difficult, it is possible, according to her.
“It begins with strong political will at both the national and local government levels to mobilize the investments required, build a larger workforce with better skills, and encourage innovation and data-based decision-making.”
The DOH partnered with Unicef and the WHO this year for its event “Toilets for Every Juan: Bida ang Pamilyang Gumagamit ng Kubeta!” in this year’s World Toilet Day. The event aims to encourage local governments to ensure sanitation in households and the entire communities.