THE PHILIPPINES must address concerns about institutions, incentives, and investments — the so-called “three I’s” — in order to expand universal access to safe water and sanitation, according to a specialist from the World Bank.

“We need to strengthen policies and governance within institutions. And these are policies and governance not just in water supply but also equally importance on water resource management,” Fiorella Delos Reyes Fabella, senior water supply and sanitation specialist from the World Bank, said during a forum in Quezon City on Thursday.

With over 30 agencies responsible for water resources, Ms. Fabella said that there is a need to strengthen institutional governance, “not just in water supply but also equally important on water resource management,” she said.

Regarding incentives, she said that the lack of clear regulation has caused “overlaps” in regulatory authority.

“Different delivery standards and a different rate setting principles across many water service providers in the Philippines are subjected to different regulatory standards and this has led to water pricing that does not recover the costs. And then it has also led to an unsustainable trajectory,” she said.

She said that service providers will need tariffs that “accurately reflect the cost of services,” which includes capital, operating and maintenance costs.

“Regulation will push water service providers to meet certain targets and standards as well as to get the correct tariffs,” she said.

According to the World Bank, only 48% of the population are currently receiving piped water services, and approximately 63% have access to safely managed sanitation services or proper collection, treatment, and disposal of human waste.

“These figures are significantly lower than the regional East Asia Pacific (EAP) average, which stands at around 74% for safe water access and 69% for access to sanitation,” the World Bank said.

On the investment side, it said that municipalities and cities need strong support from the National Government to achieve universal access to safe water and sanitation.

“We have a decentralized setup in the country. It is the LGUs (local government units) that are ultimately responsible but when you look at the LGUs and their capacity. If they could actually, with their funding that they will get from the Mandanas Ruling, they can actually do the expansion to meet universal access to safe water and sanitation in their areas,” Ms. Fabella said. — Sheldeen Joy Talavera