BARMM addresses potable water deficiency in Sulu, Tawi-Tawi island towns

By Ali G. Macabalang

MOA SIGNING FOR POTABLE WATER. BARMM Local Government Minister Naguib Sinarimbo signs contracts with a representative of a supplying company for the purchase and installation of 10 desalination machines in 10 pilot towns in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. The venture involves P144-million fund support from the Office of the Chief Minister. The signing rite took place in Cotabato City on May 27. (Photo supplied)

COTABATO CITY – The infant governance of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) has taken the cudgel to end the age-old deficiency of potable water supply in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi island provinces, bidding to capacitate constituent local government units (LGUs) to convert sea water into drinking fluid.

Interior and Local Government Minister Naguib Sinarimbo, representing the BARMM leadership, announced having signed on May 27 contracts for the “provision, delivery, and installation of ten (10) units of desalination machines for the island municipalities of Sulu and Tawi Tawi.”

Sinarimbo said the purchase and installation of the 10 units of desalination machines for an equivalent number of “pilot” islands towns has been allocated with P144-million from the special fund of interim Chief Minister Ahod “Hadji Murad” Ebrahim.

“The machines will convert sea water into potable/drinking water for (recipient) island towns, which for generations have been deprived of potable water because no amount of drilling would yield potable water,” Sinarimbo said, citing the sole nature of the two provinces as archipelagic or “surrounded by the Sulu Sea.”

Chief Minister Ebrahim has reportedly tasked the Ministry of Interior and Local Government as implementing agency of the project, entitling Minister Sinarimbo to sign the contracts with the Water Equipment Technology Industries Inc. (WETII). WETII is a known supplier of desalination machines, employing expert installers, it was learned.    

In his Facebook post shortly after signing the contracts, Sinarimbo identified the initial project recipient-towns in Sulu as Pata, Pangutaran, Pandami, and Panglima Tahil.

The names of project recipient-towns in Tawi-Tawi were not given as of press time, even as the Philippine Muslim Today new asked for a specific list.

Record-setting intervention

According to a local research, deficiency of potable or drinking water has been a problem in Sulu since its creation and even after Tawi-Tawi was carved out of it under the Marcos government.

Before and during the early years of the Marcos administration, then Sulu Governor Murphy Sangkula had proposed some projects aimed at providing his erstwhile undivided province with institutional source of potable water, including plans to build an underwater giant pipe to draw potable water from mainland Zamboanga or purchase desalination machines.

Both plans were never realized to sufficient funds or support from higher authorities and the national government, it was learned.

In past years, affluent families tried drilling deep wells to generate any form of potable water in what residents and local aid providers deemed as another failed venture.

Sometime in 2017, eight people died and over a hundred others were downed by diarrhea, dysentery and typhoid caused by intakes of water from “contaminated” deep wells in some Sulu villages. The incident prompted relief and technical teams from the defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to respond.

Then ARMM Public Works Secretary Don Loong, who led a technical team, confirmed the presence of contaminated deep wells in some Sulu areas and provided the media some photos of the deep well water that appeared greenish.

The brief diarrhea outbreak prompted the ARMM government to allocate P200-million for the regional public works, with the assistance of a Manila-based consultancy firm, to scout spring sources in mainland Sulu and develop water supply systems for Indanan, Patikul, Parang, Maimbung and Talipao. Such systems are now deriving most water supply from the so-called “Kiram Spring” in the capital Jolo town, published said.   

But for the rest of the 20 island towns in Sulu, no springs have been found and residents in such distant waterless municipalities, especially the poor, have relied upon rain water impounding or stocking or bottled water donations from affluent or donor quarters.

Sources from the MILG said Minister Sinarimbo, in one of his recent visits in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, received fervent requests from residents for the BARMM government to provide them desalination machines.

In his recent Facebook post, Sinarimbo said his signing of contracts for the purchase and installation of desalination machines in 10 pilot towns in waterless island towns of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi was a “fulfilling answer” to the residents’ quest.

According to initial information, each of the desalination machines to be stationed in a plant can convert 20,000 liters of drinking water daily from sea water. AGM

(Attached is a supplied photo, MOA SIGNING FOR POTABLE WATER. BARMM Local Government Minister Naguib Sinarimbo signs contracts with a representative of a supplying company for the purchase and installation of 10 desalination machines in 10 pilot towns in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. The venture involves P144-million fund support from the Office of the Chief Minister. The signing rite took place in Cotabato City on May 27. (Photo supplied)

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