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Water Stress As Experienced By Three Types Of Communities Surrounding The Sagudin-balili River System, Cordillera Highlands, Northern Philippines

World Water Congress 2015 Edinburgh Scotland
9. Water allocation among competing uses and users
Author(s): Maria Consuelo Doble (Baguio City
Jessica Carino
Corazon Abansi
Author: Maria Consuelo C. Doble
Co-Authors: Abansi C. and Cariño, J.
Towards Good Water Governance for Development
(Water Governance for Development Research Program)
Funded by the Emerging Interdisciplinary Development Research
of the University of the Philippines System
University of the Philippines Baguio

Keyword(s): Sub-theme 9: Water allocation among competing uses and users,



As populations expand and economies develop, the demand for water predictably grows. Consequently, water stress increases, as water distributors fail to meet growing demands. In developing countries such as the Philippines, particularly in the mountains of the Cordillera in Northern Philippines, equitable allocation of adequate quantity and quality water remains elusive for some types of communities, despite efforts of formal/traditional water organizations. As a result, water stress is felt in many communities in the region.

Schultze (2014) has defined water stress as the ability, or lack thereof, to meet human and ecological demand for water. Water stress is increased water scarcity, degradation of water quality and environmental flows, and poor access to water. Using the definition of Schultze and the Cleaver and Franks (2005) framework, this paper aims to describe water governance institutions and the water quantity, quality and access in the upstream, midstream and downstream communities along the Sagudin-Balili River in the Cordillera. It also examines access-related conflicts which result in the exclusion of other water users. Finally, it differentiates the type and level of water stress felt in three types of communities: urban, semi-urban and rural.

The study is deemed important because water is a basic resource that is necessary for survival. Therefore, nothing is more urgent than addressing the issue of water stress. Although water governance is seen more as a function of national government, it is more relevant at local levels, where forged partnerships have a direct and powerful influence on daily lives (Cleaver and Franks, 2005).


This analysis is derived mainly from the fifteen focus group discussions (FGDs) conducted from April to June 2013 with various water actors in the upstream, midstream and downstream communities along the Sagudin-Balili River System in the Cordillera. The data describes the water users' own assessment of their ability to access adequate and good quality water, and the conflicts that arise from lack of access. It also describes the institutions that exist in the areas that govern water and ultimately, it describes the type and level of water stress felt in the areas. Additional anecdotal data was generated from the survey of water managers in the Cordillera.


Site Description. The Sagudin-Balili River's headwaters are in Baguio City. The river then flows to the La Trinidad valley. It continues to flow northwards to the municipality of Sablan, before running west and merging with other rivers from other Benguet municipalities. It then drains into Bauang, La Union.

The upstream sites are in the highly-urbanized Baguio City, an important educational and commercial center in the Cordillera. It is a multi-ethnic area where the huge transient population is composed mostly of tourists and students. Midstream FGD sites are found in semi-urban La Trinidad, a first class municipality and the capital town of Benguet province. It is an in-migration area where indigenous Ibalois now live alongside migrants from other upland and lowland provinces. Downstream communities are found in the rural municipality of Sablan. The populace is still predominantly the indigenous Ibaloi of southern Benguet.

Table 1.

Water Governance Institutions. Both Baguio and La Trinidad have water districts that serve as primary institutions that distribute domestic/commercial water while community-based organizations do serve Sablan. For all the sites, water refilling stations supply communities with drinking water while irrigators' associations provide water for agriculture. Government line agencies ensure that water users receive safe water while community-based organizations guarantee equitable water distribution and maintenance of water sources. NGOs are present to fund water system development. Uniquely, Sablan generates income from hosting a mini-hydro power plant.

The more formal water districts are felt to be ineffective in allocating water within urban Baguio and semi-urban La Trinidad. Some participants are aware of laws and regulations on water use and access. However, they believe that enforcement is still wanting. It is significant that some people were more aware of customary laws, rather than Philippine State Laws, in regulating water use and access. The Sablan communities, applying more traditional water governance mechanisms, feel that they play a bigger role in water governance.

Water Quantity and Quality. In Sablan, daily water supply is adequate. However, domestic water scarcity is felt in Baguio and La Trinidad as water is scheduled and rationed throughout these areas. Quality-wise, domestic water in Baguio and La Trinidad is either heavily-chlorinated or murky and undrinkable, while water in Sablan is considered potable.

Water Access. All three sites have piped-in water and communal water sources. Some have direct access to springs while others need to tap sources from neighbors' private properties. In Sablan, water sharing is an accepted concept where relatives/neighbors allow unrestricted access to their sources. Water access-related conflicts have occurred- especially in Baguio and La Trinidad. These are resolved through negotiations and rarely through legal means.

The participants identified "water elites" which have preferential access to water. They also identified water-disadvantaged people who have less water access because of their inability to pay water fees. Baguio residents accept that the scarcity is a natural situation and that water-rationing is tolerable.


Water stress in the areas surrounding the Sagudin-Balili River System varies according to the type of community. Water quality and quantity is insufficient in the urban and semi-urban areas of Baguio and La Trinidad, respectively. In the rural town of Sablan, where there are fewer people and customary practices are applied, water stress is not experienced by the residents.

Furthermore, various multi-level water governance institutions have emerged to ensure that people are generally assured of access to water. Urban areas tend to rely more on formal governance mechanisms while rural areas rely on traditional mechanisms. These mechanisms result in the differential access or inclusion/exclusion of people to water access. 1. Asian Development Bank. (2007). Asian Water Development Outlook. ADB Manila, Philippines.

2. Cleaver, F. and Franks, T. (2005). Water Governance and Poverty: A Framework for Analysis. University of Bradford: Centre for International Development, United Kingdom.

3. Schulte, P. (2014). Defining Water Scarcity, Water Stress and Water Risk: Its Not Just Semantics. Pacific Institute Insights: Oakland, California.

4. Water Aid. (2012). Water Security Framework. WaterAid, London.

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