“[The] water crisis is largely our own making. It has resulted not from the natural limitations of the water supply or lack of financing and appropriate technologies, even though these are important factors, but rather from profound failures in water governance.”
– United Nations Development Program report on water governance
“What we do to water, we do to ourselves and the ones we love.”
– From Popol Vuh , an ancient Mayan text , from: Future Generations at the Table: Governing and Managing Our Water Commons
Revolutionizing Water Management and Governance
In Cebu City, the Philippines, public sector workers like Zosimo Salcedo at the Metro Cebu Water District (MCWD) opposed Asian Development Bank financing that would purportedly increase the burgeoning city’s water supply. The financing sounded like a water workers dream – more infrastructure funds spells more jobs. So why was Zosimo Salcedo opposing the funds?
Contrary to common perceptions that workers are only concerned with preserving jobs and receiving higher pay, the union acted as stewards of the water commons. You might call them water citizens. They understood their responsibility as ‘carers’ of water, from catchment to storage to distribution. They didn’t measure their effectiveness simply in numbers of households connected to the grid but in conservation, watershed protection and raising questions about what increased debt would mean for the water system’s long-term financial and resource sustainability. They asked the hard question as to whether, in fact, the new infrastructure meant to extract more water would, in the long run, actually ensure continuous and increased water supply. Rather than tap new surface and groundwater sources, they concluded that it made more economic and ecological sense to conserve water through cheaper system repair and watershed protection.
What is extraordinary about this change in mindset is the emergence of a new consciousness that workers have an important role to play in tending, caring and nurturing water, even though their own daily work involved a minimalist technical role with water distribution alone. In effect, Salcedo and his colleagues in the MCWD workers union symbolized a fundamental restructuring of the relationship between the water workers, the water utility, the community and water itself. In this new consciousness and practice, which we call water citizenship, they sought to secure water for all, for all times.