BARMM sends desalination machines to Sulu, Tawi-Tawi

By Ali G. Macabalang

COTABATO CITY – The infant governance of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) dispatched desalination machines to potable waterless islands towns in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi in what officials described as another bold step in making the difference in the evolution of southern autonomy and in addressing inadequacies.

Interim Chief Minister Ahod “Hadji Murad” Ebrahim and Local Government Minister Naguib Sinarimbo inspected the machines and supervised their loading onto container vans for shipment from Polloc Port in Parang, Maguindanao on Friday, July 30.

Operators took samples of sea water and processed in the machines into drinking fluid, part of which the two officials and other BARMM workers drank to demonstrate the feasibility of their well-conceived intervention for island towns.

“The purpose of the desalination machine dispersal is to squarely address the lack or inadequacy of drinking water in some distant towns of the island Sulu and Tawi-Tawi provinces,” CM Ebrahim said in the TV news report.

In corroboration, Minister Sinarimbo said the BARMM government introduced the water desalination method after its technical people failed to derive potable water in some island towns of the two provinces after repeated deep well drilling.

Sinarimbo signed last May 27 a contract with the Water Equipment Technology Industries Inc. (WETII) here for the

purchase of 10 units of desalination machine worth P144-million from the 2020 contingency fund of the Office of Chief Minister. WETII is a known supplier of desalination machines, employing expert installers, it was learned.

“The machines will convert sea water into drinking fluid for (recipient) island towns, which for generations have been lacking potable water because no amount of drilling would yield drinking fluid,” Sinarimbo told reporters on May 27.

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 past research, deficiency of 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 Marcos government, then Sulu Governor Murphy Sangkula had proposed projects aimed at providing the then undivided province with an institutional source of potable water, including a plan to build a giant underwater pipe to draw potable water from mainland Zamboanga or purchase desalination machines.

Both plans were never realized due to insufficient funds or lack of 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. The systems continued to work, deriving most water from the so-called “Kiram Spring” in the capital Jolo town, a published report 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.

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)

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