Can you drink the tap water in Manila and other parts of the Philippines? Where does it come from? What are the most common issues and contaminants. What are the best water filters for the Philippines? Why should you avoid drinking bottled water?
In this article we will attempt to answer all of these questions and more. The Philippines is comprised of 7,641 islands. Therefore the main focus will be on Manila and other major urban areas.
Where does tap water in the Philippines come from?
The Philippines receives an abundance of rain during the rainy season ensuring good access to fresh water sources including surface water (rivers, lakes and reservoirs) as well as ground water. This is essential for the country’s economic development and in meeting its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Overall, there is sufficient water but not enough in highly populated areas, especially during dry season.
The water in the metropolitan area of Manila is mostly supplied by the Angat Dam, Ipo Dam, and La Mesa Dam (also known as Angat-Ipo-La Mesa water system). Well-known and larger dams in the rural areas include Ambuklao Dam (developed for flood control, irrigation, and hydroelectric power source of Baguio and some regions in Luzon) and Magat Dam (irrigation and hydroelectric power source in Isabela).
A big challenge is the overuse of ground water across many parts of the Philippines. Due to the increase in withdrawal and the decrease in recharge, groundwater resources showed a declining trend for the past 30 years. The Closing Stock of groundwater resources, or the volume of groundwater available at the end of a given year, decreased at an average annual rate of 1.4%.
How is tap water regulated in the Philippines?
The Philippine Environment Code (PD 1151) defines the overall elements with regulatory functions consisting of discharge standards, permits, monitoring, and enforcements. In addition, there are national laws that define policy and deal with the abatement, control, and water quality management, as shown in the table below.
The most important for drinking water quality in the Philippines is R.A. No. 9275, Clean Water Act (2004). This aims to protect water bodies from pollution and monitor their safety. This was implemented through multiple boards of governors and local mayors who were given specific water sources to monitor and maintain. By localizing management, the government found that leaders were more driven to clean their water because it affected their personal community. In addition, this strategy hinged upon community involvement as well, which led to a greater public awareness of water sanitation.
The water quality standards included are mostly compliant with the WHO standards for safe drinking water.
There are also standards for bottled water. These are found in the Bureau of Food and Drugs Administrative Order 18-A, 1996. They are also referred to as the Standards of Quality and Requirements for the Processing, Packaging and Labeling of Bottled Drinking Water. The following potential pollutants are regulated: bacteria, viruses, parasites, fertilizers, pesticides, hydrocarbons, detergents, phenolic compounds, heavy metals, radioactive substances, and other soluble organic and inorganic substances. It includes rules and regulations that cover the quality of the product itself and the quality of source, production processes and facilities, including handling and use of particular labels. But as you will find out below these standards are frequently breached.
Who has access to tap water in the Philippines?
In the Philippines, 91% of the country’s estimated 100.7 million population have access to at least basic water services; but access is highly inequitable across the country, with regional basic water services access ranging from 62% to 100%. Around 99% of the one-fifth wealthiest households are more likely to have access to basic water services; while only 80% of the poorest quintile do.
But basic water service does not mean that it’s safe to drink.
Is the tap water in the Philippines safe to drink?
Water quality in the Philippines usually does not meet the standards set by the national government, especially in urban areas. The only areas of the Philippines confirmed to provide safe drinking water is the metropolitan area of Manila. See more below about bottled water in the Philippines.
Households that can afford therefore often depend on vended / bottled water which is not necessarily safe to drink either. Furthermore bottled water drinking households pay much higher water prices due to lack of access to safe drinking water.
As a result, waterborne diseases remain a severe public health concern in the country. About 4,200 people die each year due to contaminated drinking water.
Drinking tap water in Manila
Drinking straight from the tap is pretty unthinkable to most residents of Metro Manila. That’s why people invest in water filters, buy purified water, or boil their water before consuming it. Among Filipinos (at least in Manila), it’s estimated that 40% drink tap water directly, 20% use some sort of filter, and 40% do not drink it directly
In Metro Manila, water service has been carried out by two private concessionaires since 1997: The Manila Water Company in the East Zone, and Maynilad Water Services, Inc. in the West Zone. They have been spending billions of pesos to transform the Manila water network.
Thanks to this water produced by Maynilad and Manila Water today conforms to the Philippine National Standards for Drinking Water set by the Department of Health (DOH) and the World Health Organization according to Metro Pacific Water. Samples are gathered daily and tested in a laboratory to ensure that water supply meets standards. The DOH and Metropolitan Waterworks also conduct independent sampling activities to verify Maynilad’s findings.
This means that the water provided by both companies is potable—at least until it reaches your building. After that, whether the water is safe to drink depends on the material and quality of your pipes. For your water to be considered be safe to drink, there shouldn't be any leaks or damage to your pipes since these can become entry points for contamination.
You will find that Manila is the only place in the Philippines where all tap water is treated and meets national standards for purity.
Can tourists drink tap water in the Philippines?
For tourists it’s probably not advisable to drink the tap water directly as it might upset your stomach before you get used. Instead, filter it or boil it. Likewise, do not use direct tap water to make ice that you will consume it later. Use filtered or boiled water to do so. When you're out and served ice, more upscale restaurants will generally buy ice from manufacturers which adhere to safety standards so you shouldn't worry. But if you're going to smaller restaurants, ask them where their ice come from. Using tap water to brush your teeth is fine as long as you don’t swallow it.
What are the common tap water issues in the Philippines?
Safe drinking water and proper sanitation facilities are essential to health and wellness. Safe water and sanitation is especially linked to young children’s nutrition and ability to stay healthy and focused in school. Diseases caused by unsafe or unhygienic practices decrease children’s chances to successful school completion and healthy growth. In rural areas where poverty is high, inequalities are aggravated by this cycle of and link between the lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation, and poor health and low productivity.
Some of the water source issues identified that impact the water quality are:
Pesticides and herbicides
Agriculture is one of the biggest polluters of fresh water resources. Therefore groundwater near risefields and other farms may be contaminated with pesticides and herbicides.
Extremely hard water
Generally 95% of water sources in the Philippines have a TDS below 1000 meaning that it’s safe to drink. The exception is the Marilao River with annual average TDS levels ranging from 1,785 to 3,265 mg/L.
The Marilao River was also the subject of two Greenpeace reports finding lead and other heavy metals due to industrial pollution. Samples taken from a discharge canal of the Philippine Recyclers, Incorporated (PRI) had lead levels of 190 ppm or 3,800 times higher than the 0.05 ppm or mg/L standard set for lead from industries. We therefore strongly advise against using the Marilao River as a drinking water source.
The Bocaue River is another problematic water source. The river met the criteria for chromium, copper, and cadmium but showed high lead concentrations in all its sampling stations.
Pollution of our water resources such as untreated wastewater discharges affect human health through the spread of disease-causing bacteria and viruses. Some known examples of diseases that may be spread through wastewater discharge are gastro-enteritis, diarrhea, typhoid, cholera, dysentery, hepatitis, and, recently, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) (PEM 2003).
Illnesses from water
According to the World Bank, almost a third, or 31 percent of illnesses in the country, monitored for a five-year period were caused by water-borne pathogens.
What is the best water filter for the Philippines
With the amount of cheap (mostly Chinese) water filters available it can be really difficult to select a good quality filter. How do you know what kind of filter that you need and that it really works?
The first thing to consider is your water source.
For municipal tap water a high quality faucet water filter like Ultra or EcoPro by TAPP Water will typically offer excellent tasting and clean tap water. Make sure the filter is certified by international labs and tested locally in the Philippines. The cost is as little as $4-5 per month or $50 per year.
For groundwater a nanotechnology ultrafiltration faucet filter such as Ultra by TAPP Water will ensure that there’s no bacteria or viruses in your tap water.
In conclusion get a high quality water filter for the Philippines and Manila to ensure continuous access to clean tasty tap water. One of the simples, most affordable and sustainable solutions is Ultra by TAPP Water.
Bottled water in the Philippines
If you look for advise on drinking water in the Philippines or most other Asian countries the standard answer is almost always buy bottled water. But is bottled water always safe?
Multiple studies have shown that much of the bottled water is as contaminated as the tap water. In addition to common tap water contaminants most bottled water also contains microplastics / plasticisers for which we don’t know the human health impact.
Furthermore recycling and waste management of plastic bottles is unfortunately terrible. Therefore please avoid consuming bottled water if you can.
Summary about tap water in the Philippines
- Tap water in Manila metro area is drinkable but outside of the metro area it’s not recommended to drink directly from the tap in the Philippines
- Common tap water pollutants in the Philippines include bacteria, heavy metals and pesticides
- For clean tasty tap water get an affordable water filter for the Philippines such as Ultra or EcoPro by TAPP Water
- Bottled water is not necessarily safer or healthier than tap water and it’s definitely less sustainable so avoid if you can