If you travel outside the U.S., especially to out-of-the-way places in Asia-, the first thing is to learn about their drinking water and sanitation practices. Just Google the name of the city followed by the phrase “water and sewage system” and you’ll get links to the pertinent information.
I did that for Metro Manila and I got literally 100s of links for “Malababan Pozo Negro Siphoning”, the name of a family-run sewer and drain franchise engaged in cleaning septic tanks. Why are there so many Malabanan contractors in Manila?
About 12 million people live in the Metro Manila area, however only about 10% of the homes and businesses have access to a sewer connection and a treatment plant. The other 90% are connected to septic tanks (“Pozo Negros” as they are known) and there are around 1 million of them throughout the city.
While septic systems are an appropriate method of sewage disposal in rural areas of developed countries, they should never be installed in large cities like Manila. In the normal process, the partially treated sewage (“effluent”) simply drains into the soil and mother nature decomposes the remainder of the bad stuff.
However above a certain population density, the ground water will be overwhelmed with bacteria and other microbes. That’s the case in Manila where all the pozo negros have created one of the most polluted places on the planet and the city water is absolutely not fit to drink.
All the pozo negros have to be pumped out (or “siphoned” as Malabanan calls the process) every year or so and the contents trucked away. So what does Malabanan do with all the effluent siphoned from the tanks? It’s a sure bet that Manila Bay or the Pasig River are an off-the-record dumping spot.
The building codes in Manila are also very lax and plumbing installations that would violate the Hell out of the code in the U.S. are perfectly OK in Manila. It’s quite common for a pozo negro to be buried underneath the house and sometimes right underneath the kitchen or the living room! In many cases, the exact location of the tank isn’t known and Malabanan probes for its location by tapping on the concrete floor with a hammer. Then an opening is chiseled in the concrete to insert a hose connected to a pump on their truck.
Furthermore, the siphoning process is poorly mechanized and totally inadequate for the job of removing the “contents” of the tank. That’s where pozo negro “divers” come to the rescue. These are young men or teenagers from the 1000s of highly impoverished families in the city and they have no choice other than to do very, very menial labor jobs like manual sewage cleaning. I suspect they are “Day Laborers” (as they called here in the U.S.) who are picked up by contractors at hiring centers around the city.
After arriving at the job site, the diver strips down to a simple swim suit (or maybe completely butt-naked if the location is out of public view) and is lowered down into the tank. The diver is often submerged neck deep in wastewater and his job is to collect all the floating “debris” and act as an “agitator” to stir up the sediment so it can be sucked up by the hose.
These divers have become an icon of the pozo negro service and many of Malabanan’s ads feature images of them working in a sewage tank. A typical siphoning job usually takes an hour and after getting out of the tank, the diver rinses off with a hose and antiseptic soap then it’s on to the next job.
How these divers can tolerate the constant exposure to wastewater is an example of an “adaptive immune system” and maybe that’s why the Philippine population has avoided mass extinction.
There you have it – a prime example of a Third World water and sewage operation and a reminder of the warning “Never But Never Ever Drink The Water”!!!Published in