More than six million people have been affected by a water shortage in large areas of the Philippine capital and a nearby province, with long lines forming for rationed water and businesses and some hospitals struggling to cope after faucets ran dry.
A spokesman for Manila Water Co. Inc., Jeric Sevilla, said Thursday that water supplies will be cut for at least six hours a day for an estimated 6.8 million people in more than a million households until the rainy season fills dams and reservoirs in May or June.
A company advisory said residents in more than a dozen cities and towns would lose their water supply from six to 21 hours a day through the summer months and appealed for public understanding.
The company, one of two government-authorised water suppliers in the densely populated Manila metropolis and nearby Rizal province, said a spike in demand and reduced water levels in a dam and smaller reservoirs in the sweltering summer are the culprit, exacerbated by El Nino weather conditions.
Manila Water, which supplies water to the eastern half of the capital, initially tried to cope with the limited supply by reducing pressure but it did not work since some communities in hilly areas complained of not getting water for long hours. The company then decided to schedule water supply interruptions starting Thursday, Sevilla said.
"The concept is for everybody to share the burden," Sevilla said by phone. "Nobody wants this to happen. The welfare of our customers is foremost in our mind and we're taking steps to mitigate the situation."
In the hard-hit city of Mandaluyong, residents lined up for hours with pails and water jugs to get water from firetrucks.
"We have no water. It has been one week, not a drop in our faucet," said resident Richie Baloyo. "
There are children going to school, people need to work, how do you expect them to collect water like this?"
Many water-dependent businesses, such as car washes and laundry shops, have closed temporarily.
Some restaurants have started using paper plates or porcelain plates covered with disposable plastic sheets to conserve water.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III made an urgent appeal to relatives of hospital patients to "limit the watchers of your patients to one" to reduce water use.
Congress is to hold inquiries next week into the cause of the crisis. The government has been blamed for decades of delay in constructing another dam and other related infrastructure. Manila Water has been criticised for not adequately preparing for contingencies.
"El Nino is not really the culprit," Sevilla said. "It's actually supply and demand."