Philippines - Water - Island of Sanity

Island of Sanity


Philippines - Water

You're expecting me to say it, so okay, I'll get it out of the way: Don't drink tap water in the Philippines. It isn't filtered and treated like in the United States, so it's not necessarily safe to drink. Millions of people drink it every day and don't instantly die, so it's not like it's virulently poisonous. But why take chances?

Most people in the Philippines who can afford it drink bottled water. You can buy bottles of water at the grocery store, just like in the US. Most upscale homes have a water dispenser with a big jug. (Like the picture at the top of this article.) When the jug is empty, you get it refilled for like 50 cents. Bottled water is not expensive.

By the way, many of these water dispensers have heaters and coolers so they can dispense hot and cold water. I find this very handy. If I want a cup of instant coffee or hot chocolate, I just fill a cup from the "hot" side.

Tap water is just for washing.

For what it's worth: This makes economic sense. We only drink a small percentage of tap water. In the average home, most of it goes for washing. And most of the water used by businesses goes for cooling. So why purify water to a level suitable for drinking, that no one is ever going to drink? It's rather a waste.

Filipino homes do not have a tank water heater like in the US. The only place you have hot water is in the shower. Each shower has a small electric on-demand water heater. There is no hot water in the rest of the house. In the US, every faucet has hot and cold water. In the Philippines, it's just cold. Usually there's only one handle. Sometimes they use imported faucets with two handles, but then both are cold water.

Another side note: Most Filipino homes do not have bath tubs: they have showers. Personally I prefer this. I haven't taken a bath, as opposed to a shower, in decades. A shower stall is roomier than a bathtub. And for the handicapped and the elderly, you don't have to climb over the side of the tub. But curiously, in most FIlipino homes, there's no divider of any kind between the shower and the rest of the bathroom. There's no door or shower curtain or even a little two-inch wall to keep the shower water in the shower. When you take a shower, the water gets all over the bathroom. Nicer hotels have a shower door or something, but not most homes.

Cold water in the Philippines is a lot warmer than cold water in most of the US. In the US, we bury water pipes so they don't freeze in the winter. They are buried deep enough to be below the frost line. But at that depth temperatures are usually fairly constant all year, so water enters the house at a temperature of about 50 to 60 degrees. (Depending on just how deep the pipes are buried and where in the country you live.) In the Philippines, water supply lines just sit on the ground or are buried just a few centimeters deep. There's no need to bury them beneath the frost line because there is no frost line. Temperatures in the Philippines never, ever fall below freezing. (I recently checked and the coldest temperature ever recorded in the country was 6 C, and that was in 1961.) So pipes are basically on the surface. Which means that the water coming in is basically at outside temperature, which is 70 to 90 F. This means that a "cold shower" isn't all that cold.

You might think that, as a collection of islands, the Philippines would have plenty of water. But the water it's surrounded by is sea water, not suitable for drinking or washing. The country regularly struggles with water shortages. In addition, this is a poor country, so they have a hard time maintaining the infrastructure. Thus it's not uncommon for water pressure to be low or for there to be no water at all. Upscale homes work around this. Some have rainwater collection systems, so if the city water is out, you live on rain water. My apartment has a big tank. When the water is on, it fills the tank. Then we use water from the tank. So if the water goes out, we can go a while with the water from our tank, and then when the water comes back on, our tank will automatically refill. There are two catches to this scheme: 1. There's no warning that the water is out so that we would know to conserve. 2. We need a pump to get the water from the tank into the house, so if the electricity goes out, we have no water. One of our neighbors has a tank on the roof, which seems a better idea.

© 2023 by Jay Johansen


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