Safe water for displaced families in Cagayan de Oro, the Philippines


Tens of thousands of low-income households in Cagayan de Oro, the Philippines, have been displaced by disaster or eviction and moved to relocation sites in and around the city. The ‘Ridge to Coast Rain to Tap’ (R2CR2T) project helps to connect these families to safe and clean drinking water, an essential element for building their new lives.

Cherry Ann E. Lucagbo bolted upright in her bed, torn from her sleep by the commotion outside. Through the thin walls of her house, she could hear neighbors shouting and children crying above the terrifying sound of gushing water. The Cagayan de Oro River had burst its banks and was rapidly pouring into the living room downstairs. Cherry Ann knew they had to act fast. In the pitch dark, she hurriedly put 5-year-old Chevron Jon into a washtub, threw in a stack of photos and hasted outside, followed on the heels by her brother who had tossed toddler Mark onto his shoulders. Amid the turmoil they swam towards the main road, the strong current pulling at their legs as they pushed the tub out in front of them.

Cherry Ann gets emotional as she recalls the traumatic experience: “I cried, Lord! I was so nervous, my heart was beating fast, all my focus was on was getting my children to safety.” Exhausted and in shock they reached higher ground, where they were soon reunited with Cherry Ann’s husband Ronnie who had rushed back from his night shift. Many other inhabitants of Cagayan de Oro were not as fortunate. That night of December 16th 2011, tropical storm Sendong, the cause of the flood, claimed 1300 lives and damaged over 50,000 houses, making it one of the most destructive typhoons ever recorded on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao.

In the aftermath of the disaster, the local government of Cagayan de Oro designated dozens of relocation sites in and around the city for rehousing Sendong survivors. Cherry Ann felt a huge relief when it was finally their turn. In the summer of 2017, the Lucagbo family left their damaged home on the riverbank for a new house in Berjaya GK Village in Bugo, a colorful relocation site built on a hilltop. Like many other relocation sites, Berjaya GK Village was not yet connected to the city water supply network when the family moved in. Every morning before work, Ronnie would refill 12 jerrycans with water at a water vendor downhill and push the heavy load up to their house using a wooden pushcart. At PHP 5 per container, this amounted to roughly PHP 1800 (~EUR 32) per month, almost 20% of the family’s income.

The Cagayan de Oro Water District (COWD), the agency responsible for providing water to the city’s 700,000 inhabitants, established a partnership with the Dutch drinking water company VEI to expand water supply to the most disadvantaged relocation sites.

Through the 6-year the Ridge to Coast, Rain to Tap (R2CR2T) project, VEI provides trainings, technical expertise and financial assistance to strengthen COWD’s capacities and performance. One of the project’s targets is the installation of 7,000 new water connections for low-income households, particularly in relocation sites. The project is co-funded by the Water for Life Foundation and the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs through the Sustainable Water Fund (FDW).

In April 2021, the Lucagbo family got their own water connection with the support of the project. Cherry Ann smiles as she rinses her laundry under the tap behind the house. She is delighted about the convenience of having running water at home as well as the reduced costs, paying only PHP 232 (~EUR 4) per month, COWD’s baseline fee for the first 10 m3 used. With the money saved, she plans to renovate the kitchen and save for the future: “Priority is the education for my children. My eldest is now in the second year of high school. He wants to study to become a chef, he loves to cook.”

Although the family now has a secure supply of safe and clean water, Cherry Ann has kept her old habit of harvesting rainwater in a drum, which she uses for watering the plants: “We already experienced the hardship of having no water. Now I teach my children that conserving water is very important.”

Read the publication 'Safe water for displaced families in Cagayan de Oro'

Click here for more info on the Ridge to Coast, Rain to Tap (R2CR2T).