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MANILA (Reuters Life!) - For years, the residents of the slums along Manila's Zapote River have cursed the water lilies that clog up the waterway and cause flooding. Now, thanks to a handicraft project, they can't get enough of them.
The lilies, which feed on the garbage that is dumped daily in the river, grow like weeds, blocking water flow and ultimately damaging homes on the river bank.
"Residents have complained that the water lilies are a menace because they cause floods and they don't serve any use. They've approached us in the government and asked us to get rid of them," said Vangie Dalosa, coordinator of the Zapote River Rehabilitation Project.
Despite government efforts, the plants have survived several attempts to get rid of them, including dredging and mass harvesting -- they grow back again, in even larger quantities.
But now, instead of trying to uproot the lilies, the 300 or so families who live along the river at Las Pinas in one of the larger slums, are happy for them to flourish, as they use the stems to create bags, baskets, lamps and other handicrafts which are exported to the United States.
"It's malleable, it's easy to fold and it's easy to weave," said Ophelia So, who launched the handicraft project that now helps generate income for the slum dwellers.
"This helps us with everyday expenses. Depending on our output, say we can produce 50 pieces. That's enough to buy our meals for one whole day," said Jun Corpuz, a father of four and handicraft worker.
Slum dweller Elizabeth Asuncion's children also do their share in making water lily products, helping boost the family income. "These water lilies now have a use for us, unlike before when they were like a plague. And we're thankful," Asuncion said.
Flooding has also lessened, with the massive harvesting of lilies and continuous river dredging.
However, as government officials work toward cleaning up the river for good, the colonies of water lilies could dwindle, taking with them a source of livelihood for dozens of families.
But project leaders say it could take a while before lilies are wiped out from Manila's polluted waterways -- the city generates 8,000 tonnes of solid waste each day, and with no proper disposal facilities in slum areas, most of it ends up in the river.
Editing by Miral Fahmy