Sulu, Tawi-Tawi folk now drink desalinated water from the sea

Residents fetch drinking water from a desalination machine in Hadji Panglima Tahil, Sulu on June 11, 2022. MindaNews photo by FERDINANDH CABRERA

BONGAO, Tawi-Tawi (MindaNews / 16 June) – What was thought to be impossible then — drinking water from the sea — has become real for residents of the southernmost provinces of the Philippines.

Various island communities in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi inhabited by Tausug and Sama-Bajau people, respectively, are now enjoying safe drinking water through the desalination project of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

The project converts seawater into safe drinking water by reducing salinity..

On a sunny afternoon,  fronting the port of the town hall of  Hadji Panglima Tahil town in Sulu, Harma Laguib Madong, in her 40’s, queued her empty containers into two-pipe faucets connected to a machine.

Clear water gushed out from the faucet as an engine from a container van could be heard enforcing the desalination machine to function.

She is doing this everyday with her neighbors as she prepares meal for her family of four children.

She  said she used to spend huge amounts to travel by boat to a nearby town to buy drinking water.

“I spent more than P50 per day for bottled distilled water,” she said. “Now that we have this machine, our drinking water is safe and free, a relief for me who is only a seaweed farmer,” Madong added in the vernacular.

Minister Naguib Sinarimbo of the Ministry of the Interior and Local Government said at least 14 desalination machines have been put up in the two island provinces.

Costing about P20 million each, the desalination machines have an output capacity of 22,000 liters of water per day and can operate for 8-10 hours, serving around 10,000 people in the community.

“Digging for wells in those areas was not an option since municipalities are surrounded by sea,” Sinarimbo said during its launching last year.

Locals were elated over this project.

Local officials and residents said the desalinated water did not differ much from bottled water in terms of quality. 

In South Ubian town, Tawi-Tawi, residents have relied mainly on rains since immemorial, a burden for those who needed to go to nearby municipalities to secure drinking water.

“The cost and the time make like difficult for us,” said Fatima Araza,  a resident of South Ubian.

“For those who own motorboats they can have unlimited drinking water, for us with no fixed income, securing safe water is not easy,” he added.

“If it rains, people here are happy until the rain is over,” said Mayor Hadzri Matba of South Ubian.

“Actually, when Minister Siarimbo visited us last year, he boosted our morale. At least we have a regional government that we can rely on,” he said.

Over the weekend, BARMM officials led by Sinarimbo held groundbreaking ceremonies for various development projects in Tawi-Tawi’s municipalities as the province prepares for the expected influx of local and foreign tourists with the opening of PAL Cotabato-Tawi-Tawi direct flights twice weekly.

“The people of Tawi-Tawi now have high hopes that their needs are attended to by the regional government,” Sinarimbo said.

“We are taking extra steps to accommodate all their requests that are legitimately coming from them. That’s their need and we cannot refuse that because BARMM exists for the Bangsamoro,” the official said in the vernacular. (Ferdinandh Cabrera/MindaNews)