Kate Letizia & Meghan Larson are working in San Fernando, Philippines in waste management.
The local government of San Fernando City, La Union has been making great progress in developing a city-wide septic tank maintenance program. As required by law, all septic tanks in the city will be emptied regularly and the contents (called septage) properly treated and disposed of to protect public health and the environment. The city is receiving assistance in planning and implementing the program from Rotary International, the Rotary Club of San Fernando, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Sustainable Cities. This partnership is also developing small sewage treatment systems in Barangays Catbangen, Poro and San Francisco.
Regular emptying of septic tanks, referred to as septage management, is seen as an affordable, short-term solution to the Philippines’ sanitation challenges. Poor sanitation results in 55 deaths per day, and more than P78 billion in economic losses $1.8 billion can, according to a study done by the World Bank. Septage management is being implemented in Metro Manila, Dumaguete City and Alabel, Sarangani to comply with the Clean Water Act of 2004. Many other cities and water districts are also developing these programs because of the many benefits. In terms of health benefits, the program will reduce contamination of well water. A study of well water in San Fernando showed that 56 out of 59 wells were contaminated with fecal coliform bacteria, which causes serious illness.
Septic tank maintenance will also result in cleaner rivers and lakes, reduction of foul odor caused by overflowing septic tanks, and an improved image for the City of San Fernando. Given the large amount of money lost each year due to poor sanitation, including health costs and reduced fish catches, proper sanitation saves money in the long run. Indeed, the City of San Fernando seems to be taking a step in the right direction.
With assistance from USAID and Rotary, a septage treatment facility will be built next to the landfill. Once it is completed, the city plans to hire a local desludging company to empty the septic tanks throughout the city using a vacuum truck. All septic tanks should be emptied once every five years. The schedule of desludging will be posted at all barangay halls so that residents are aware when their septic tanks will be desludged. The City is encouraging residents to become aware of where their septic tank is located within their home, and how it can be accessed so that the desludging can be done quickly and efficiently.
The City will collect a new Wastewater Management Fee at the beginning of 2011 to pay for the operation and maintenance of the septage treatment facility, the collection of the septage using vacuum trucks, and other wastewater management projects including future expansion of the treatment facility. The fee will be added to the yearly Real Property Tax (RPT) bill and although the amount has yet to be finalized, residents of San Fernando have been assured that it will fall well below the current rate of P7,500 that they are currently paying for septic tank desludging – one of the highest prices in the country! For comparison, residents of Dumaguete are paying about P50 per month on average, while Metro Manila residents pay about P42 per month. Zamboanga City is developing a program that will cost the average household P52 per month.
To learn more about the Septage Management Program in San Fernando, click here.