Many of the Philippines’ public and private investments in infrastructure are typically concentrated in the country’s urban areas. While such investments have done well to raise urban citizens’ standards of living and to shore up sectors like the finance, business process outsourcing, and services industries, that same level of growth has yet to be realized in the Philippines’ rural communities.
With a rural population that comprises 52.32 percent of the national population and an economy that draws heavily from rural activities like farming and fishing, it makes sense for the Philippines to strengthen its rural development efforts. Future public and private investments should go beyond the country’s urban centers and involve its rural margins. Below are five approaches to uplifting the overall quality of life in rural communities.
Bolster Community Health Initiatives
One truth that was truly driven home amid the Philippines’ experience of the COVID-19 pandemic was the value of community health. A lot of things rest on an individual’s health and wellbeing, especially if they are part of a small and close-knit rural community whose activities are interdependent on each other.
Filipino stakeholders must ride on what they’ve learned in recent years and invest in rural community health initiatives like vaccination programs, medical missions, and sanitation drives. Beyond these, medical services must become permanent fixtures in every community, big or small, but especially those in far-flung locations and disadvantaged regions. When individual members of rural communities are healthy and sufficiently protected from injury and illness, the community’s collective quality of life increases.
Invest in Digital Infrastructure
For inclusive involvement in the rising digital economy, stakeholders should also invest in digital infrastructure for rural areas. There’s promise to be had in the construction of small cell sites, which can boost the connectivity of macro cell towers and deliver both larger data quantities and higher data speeds to rural users.
Better digital infrastructure in rural locations will mean more employment and entrepreneurial opportunities in the digital economy for rural citizens. It will also ensure that more learners can stay connected and pursue their education through online or hybrid learning experiences, all without having to leave their homes for the city. Overall, better connectivity will improve rural citizens’ quality of life just for their capacity to stay in touch with their loved ones and for being able to access critical financial and government services like being able to pay their bills or settle government dues online.
Make Clean and Potable Water More Accessible
Rural water systems should also be enhanced so that they can guarantee year-round water sufficiency to their home communities. This is of particular importance given how vulnerable water systems in the Philippines are to adverse weather events, such as droughts and floods, as well to the larger and longer-term impacts of climate change. The scarcity of clean, potable water can worsen the effects of such disasters and hamper the community’s socioeconomic recovery.
Local leaders can work with water resource management experts and infrastructure builders to strengthen and climate-proof rural water systems. In the long run, their efforts can lead to major improvements in community nutrition and sanitation, as well as in the way water is used in irrigation and other agricultural activities.
Increase Productivity in the Farming and Fishery Sectors
It is also important for rural communities to play to their strengths and enhance their prowess in homegrown industries, like farming and fishing. Investments in agricultural research and development, as well as in farming, husbandry, fishing infrastructure, can pave the way for greater productivity among local farmers and fisherfolk, thus improving their livelihood.
Farmers and fisherfolk who have always worked with the country’s natural resources shouldn’t be persuaded to abandon their industries for urban jobs that look more economically viable. Instead, they should be further empowered in the practice of their indigenous vocations, allowing them to rely on their labor to combat hunger and poverty.
Improve Mobility Systems
Rural support infrastructure for transportation is also worth investing in. Without access to public transport systems, road networks, and fuel supply chain networks, rural citizens will be cut off from their basic needs and their means of livelihood. They also become more vulnerable to the negative effects of natural disasters like typhoons, floods, earthquakes, and landslides because it will be very easy for them to be isolated from the rest of the country during such events.
Stakeholders would do well to facilitate the construction of farm-to-market roads, bridges, and transport hubs and to explore further solutions in rural mobility. Achieving inclusive mobility, or mobility that can equitably cater to the needs of citizens, will greatly improve collective quality of life in rural areas.
If public and private investors are to embark on long-term nation-building projects in the Philippines, they cannot leave rural communities behind. Any longstanding efforts to develop the urban center must be coupled with efforts to uplift rural areas.
No outsider to a rural community should forget to listen to local voices. Rural citizens know their communities best and must be able to exercise their agency in addressing their collective needs. The goal is to work closely with them in identifying key development issues and arriving at solutions that are commensurate with the challenges. This is the only way to permanently improve quality of life in rural communities and accomplish inclusive social, political, and economic progress.