Pasig River (Philippines) Pollution

By Ian Teñido

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The Pasig River is the main river in Metro Manila and is approximately 27 km long. The river is important because it provides livelihood, food and transport to its residents. The river suffers from high level of pollution because of the large amount of waste ridiculously being dumped into it. In the 1950s the number of people bathing in the river was reduced and by the 1980 all fishing activity had stopped. The water in the river started smelling very bad and by the 90s, the river was biologically considered dead.

Efforts have been made by the government, civil society and private donors along with international donors like ADB and the World Bank to address this issue but the problem still remains grave. The reason for the lack of change is that the length of the river is short and because of it, untreated sewage and affluent flow into it at a very high rate. There is lack of proper landfills near the communities and the river becomes the target for waste dumping as well. In other words, the rate and effectiveness of cleaning is much lower than the rate of pollution and waste dumping.

The impact on the communities

The impact of the polluted river is not isolated and in fact leads to several other problems for the communities. The excessive garbage in the river ensured that even a minor rain leads to flooding. The floating garbage clogs the waterways and keeps them from draining properly. This leads to the homes of people getting filled with many times more garbage than they had actually dumped into the river. The second impact comes in the form of diseases and infections that tend to spread. Leptospirosis outbreak happened because of the exposure of people to water contaminated with rat urine and garbage. The communities face the brunt of their own actions such as open public defecation… and dumping waste into the river. The overall quality of life also deteriorates because there are strong distinctive odours and very poor environmental conditions all surrounding the homes. The number of water- borne disease cases is also higher and this burdens the already underdeveloped healthcare system and reflects on the various overall health indices of the country.

The implications to the species in this river are evident as well. The marine lives have died and the species which survived on marine life have also perished or changed their preferences. It is important to note that fishing was a common practice among the locals in the river before it got so polluted. The animals, mostly birds, used the river as their main source of drinking water currently have to face difficulties and look elsewhere for water. Therefore, many food chains and food webs got altered as a result.

Analysis of the issue on scientific grounds

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The various water quality surveys have revealed that the Pasig River is a toxic mix of nitrates, heavy metals, oil, phosphates and Feces (Prudente, 1994). I am personally, environmentally devastated. The water testing has also revealed high amounts of organic matter in the water which is a sign of untreated sewage entering the water. According to the scientists, even the Hardy Water Hyacinth would not grow anywhere around the river.

It was also found that industrial pollution was responsible for 45 percent of the total pollution in Pasig River. The textile and the food manufacturing industries were considered the greatest water polluters. The domestic liquid waste was found to be contributing another 45 percent of the pollution to the Pasig River. The rest of the 10 percent was the contribution of solid waste (Helmer, 1997). I find it as a perfect case for an interdisciplinary approach to understanding and resolving an issue. There are sociology, geography, political science, project management, health sciences and many other issues interplaying with each other. For instance, urban migration has been considered a significant source for high amount of pollution in Pasig River, therefore science has a role and required to analyze this cause as well.

Implications for future research

There are needs to research and develop models for reviving the environmentally devastated water bodies or preventing water bodies from reaching this advanced stage. These models can be based on the success stories from various other parts of the world. One good example is the condominium sewage system in Brazil (Melo, 2005). In this model the household waste water from connected homes collect in the tank to settle. This ensures that solid wastes and cooking greases settle at the very bottom. These are removed regularly by the local water provider. There is no denying that the models might have to be altered to suit the needs and conditions of the specific country in question. Apart from the Pasig River, the Ganges River in India and Citarum River in Indonesia are also some of the few rivers which require rehabilitation.

The future research needs to focus on finding sustainable solutions for poor sanitation services and solid waste management. These two areas need the most attention because a lot of problems with respect to the river pollution boil down to them. There are also greater needs to have a long term commitment to the cause and to have a strategic plan in place. The activities among the various stakeholders need to be coordinated with each other.

The final aspect is that the success of the initiative will depend solely on the extent to which there is cooperation from various parties. This has to be ensured through adequate engagement of the civic society, citizen bodies, government bodies, non-governmental organizations and national as well as international donors. For instance, until the citizens are educated enough about the proper ways to dispose of their waste effectively, no other agency lead efforts to clean the river would bear results. The whole effort will have to be a joint one if it were to produce the intended outcomes.

Article Download Link: Pasig River Pollution_Ian Tenido_PDF



Helmer, R. & Hespanhol, I. (1997). Water Pollution Control: A Guide to the Use of Water Quality Management Principles.UNEP,WHO,WSSCC, Tokyo: E & FN Spon.

Melo, J. (2005). The Experience of Condominial Water and Sewerage Systems in Brazil. Case Studies from Brasılia, Salvador and Parauapebas. Peru: Water and Sanitation Program

Prudente, M. S., Ichihashi, H., & Tatsukawa, R. (1994). Heavy metal concentrations in sediments from Manila Bay, Philippines and inflowing rivers. Environmental Pollution, 86(1), 83-88.

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