Filipina flight attendant fights for access to potable water

Joana Bacallo, a Filipino flight attendant in a Middle East-based airlines, makes it her mission to bring clean water to rural areas

by Kim Rojas, originally posted on May 26, 2016


MANILA, Philippines – The problems we face are very basic but what we do about them will determine our future, said Joana Bacallo, a senior flight attendant and a balikbayan who fights to conserve and produce clean water.

Bacallo shared during a Rappler Talk on Tuesday, May 24, how her attendance in the World Water Week 2015 in Stockholm changed her life. This is how she discovered her advocacy for clean water.

“What shocked me was the fact that I was the only Filipino there,” she said.

Organized by Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) – which provides water-wise solutions for sustainable development in 5 thematic areas: water governance, transboundary water management, climate change and water, the water-energy-food nexus, and water economics – World Water Week is the focal point for the world’s water issue.

In 2015, 3,000 individuals and almost 300 convening organizations from 130 countries joined the event. They “believe water is key to our future prosperity, and that together, we can achieve a water wise world.”

Every year, experts, practitioners, decision-makers, business innovators and young professionals from a range of sectors and countries come to Stockholm to network, exchange ideas, foster new thinking and develop solutions to the most pressing water-related challenges of today.

Solutions for PH

Bacallo thought that she needed to do something. She approached various global leaders and advocates and introduced herself as a “student of water.” After learning much about water, she learned the value of water and energy. She also realized that water is the number one global problem where every other issue stems from.

“That’s the start of me opening up some doors about water as energy. Water as a gender issue. I didn’t even know that water can be connected to gender. Then, I discovered, through my travels and I’ve seen it firsthand in Uganda, that women there have to get water. They spent 90% of their time collecting water instead of tending to other household activities,” Bacallo said.

This prompted her to start a water shop called Agua Pura in her apartment in Pasig City. She hired anyone near her apartment, even tambays (bystanders).

Bacallo, however, wanted to create a bigger impact to society. So from May 27 until June 1, she will hold her 30th birthday up at Mount Pulag, the 3rd highest mountain in the Philippines, and plans to provide a year’s worth of school supplies for the students of Mt Pulag Elementary School.

Through this event, Bacallo also wants to engage with people and the children at Mt Pulag to have fun, learn crafts, like photography, and most especially, talk about the water issue.

“My advocacy for clean water started with frustrations,” Bacallo shared. When she gets home after a long flight, she needs potable water, but the water in her place is not drinkable.

In the Philippines, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimated that 26% of Filipinos do not have access to improved santiation. This is ironic considering the fact that that the country is an archipelagic nation surrounded by oceans and seas.

“Water is the fuel that burns inside my heart, and everywhere I go, this is what I see,” she added.

With El nino and global warming, water crisis comes into view in the Philippines. In April 2016, the country recorded a new heat index, reaching 51 degrees Celsius in Nueva Ecija.

According to the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP), Metro Manila, Angeles City, Baguio, Cebu, and Davao will face severe water shortage, at least 10 years from now.

Water issue

Experts declared that with a 2 or 2.3% increase in annual population, the Philippines would have water shortage by 2025. How many years do Filipinos have left before their throats get dry?

More than that, half of Filipino households, as of 2011, did not try to make their drinking water safe, according to the latest National Nutrition Survey (NNS). Many households also do not have access to proper sanitation and hygiene. This can impact on individual health, and in the long-run, the country’s overall productivity.

ECCP stated that the Philippines is rich with freshwater supply. To effectively use them, proper management and usage must be applied. Through this, water can be more potable.

The question is who would initiate this?

Bacallo has been living in Dubai when she decided to come back home and confront the water crisis directly. When asked why go back and help in solving this problem, she answered: “Without my country, I would not have what I have now. Regardless where I go, I have to go back to my backyard.”

She added: “I have to go back because our countrymen need hope. If we start doing something, people will follow.

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