Philippine water shortage forces cuts for 6.8 million people

A man sits beside rows of pails as he waits for water trucks return to their area after several days without water in Mandaluyong, metropolitan Manila, Philippines on Thursday, March 14, 2019. Aside from the daily line of residents waiting for water rations from trucks, many businesses like laundry shops, carwash and water purifying stations in some parts of metropolitan Manila have been affected by a water shortage from the Manila Water Company due to low levels at the La Mesa dam and the onset of El Nino which causes below normal rainfall conditions. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Workers prepare to filter water at a purifying station while they wait for the water supply to return at their area in Mandaluyong, metropolitan Manila, Philippines on Thursday, March 14, 2019. Aside from the daily line of residents waiting for water rations from trucks, many businesses like laundry shops, carwash and water purifying stations in some parts of metropolitan Manila have been affected by a water shortage from the Manila Water Company due to low levels at the La Mesa dam and the onset of El Nino which causes below normal rainfall conditions. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
A woman prepares to wash laundry which has piled up after several days without water at her home in Mandaluyong, metropolitan Manila, Philippines on Thursday, March 14, 2019. Aside from the daily line of residents waiting for water rations from trucks, many businesses like laundry shops, carwash and water-purifying stations in Manila have been affected by a water shortage from the Manila Water Company due to low levels at the La Mesa dam and the onset of El Nino which causes below normal rainfall conditions. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
A couple carries empty containers looking for places to collect water in Mandaluyong, metropolitan Manila, Philippines on Thursday, March 14, 2019. Aside from the daily line of residents waiting for water rations from trucks, many businesses like laundry shops, carwash and water-purifying stations in Manila have been affected by a water shortage from the Manila Water Company due to low levels at the La Mesa dam and the onset of El Nino which causes below normal rainfall conditions. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

MANILA, Philippines — About 6.8 million people have been affected by a water shortage in and around the Philippine capital, with long lines forming for rationed water and businesses and some hospitals struggling to cope after faucets ran dry.

Water supplies will be cut for at least six hours a day for more than a million households until the rainy season fills dams and reservoirs in May or June, a spokesman for Manila Water Co. Inc., Jeric Sevilla, said Thursday.

The company, one of two government-authorized water suppliers in the densely populated Manila metropolis and nearby Rizal province, said a spike in demand and reduced water levels in a dam and smaller reservoirs in the sweltering summer are the culprit, exacerbated by El Nino weather conditions.

Manila Water, which supplies water to the eastern half of the capital, initially tried to cope with the limited supply by reducing pressure but it did not work since some communities in hilly areas complained of not getting water for long hours. The company then decided to schedule water supply interruptions starting Thursday, Sevilla said.

"The concept is for everybody to share the burden," Sevilla said by phone. "Nobody wants this to happen. The welfare of our customers is foremost in our mind and we're taking steps to mitigate the situation."

A company advisory said residents in more than a dozen cities and towns would lose their water supply from six to 21 hours a day through the summer months and appealed for public understanding.

In the city of Mandaluyong, residents lined up for hours with pails and water jugs to get water from firetrucks. "We have no water. It has been one week, not a drop in our faucet," said resident Richie Baloyo. "There are children going to school, people need to work, how do you expect them to collect water like this?"

Many water-dependent businesses, such as car washes and laundries, have closed temporarily. Some restaurants are using paper plates or porcelain plates covered with disposable plastic sheets to conserve water. Health Secretary Francisco Duque III made an urgent appeal to relatives of hospital patients to "limit the watchers of your patients to one" to reduce water use.

Congress is to hold inquiries next week into the cause of the crisis.

The government has been blamed for decades of delay in constructing another dam and other related infrastructure. Manila Water has been criticized for not adequately preparing for contingencies.

"El Nino is not really the culprit," Sevilla said. "It's actually supply and demand."

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