The daily barrage of complaints to local call-in programmes, and the repeated images of irate residents pleading for water trucks to visit their bone-dry communities signal we are in a middle of a water crisis –– a severe one.
And weather forecasters offer no comfort with predictions of little relief.
In a report this month, the Caribbean Institute for Meterology and Hydrology, based in St James, reported that the Eastern Caribbean faced unusual drought, and the current wet season would likely end before the traditional close on November 30.
We know all too well that the sun these days is more than we are able to bear, while rainfall is minimal.
According to experts, Barbados has recorded its lowest rainfall in recent history for August. As a result, water levels in several wells connected to reservoirs are virtually non-existent; and this has led to daily outages and nightly shut-offs in most rural parishes –– mainly St John, St Joseph, St Andrew and St Thomas.
At a recent news conference, acting general manager of the Barbados Water Authority, Dr John Mwansa, reported: “The total reduction that we have determined to have been impacted amounts to a million gallons a day in the Golden Ridge system, which means that we have reduced production from 2.5 million gallons per day.”
Dr Mwansa also warned that the problem was being compounded by the increasing number of burst mains, which had increased from an average of three a day to six over the last three years.
“On some days, we have as many as ten burst [mains]. Of course, when you have such frequent disruptions . . . , it is difficult to maintain a continuous supply. Additionally, because of the drought conditions, you will observe an increase in demand from our public supply system –– from those who have backyard gardens, who are utilizing water from the public supply system.”
Hardly anyone could deny we are in dire straits, and a national plan is critical.
In hindsight, forecasters should have sounded a warning bell earlier, given the fact they had been monitoring reduced activity this hurricane season largely because of the El Niño phenomenon –– which they also predict will result in sparse rainfall as the dry season approaches.
Perhaps, this would have better equipped agencies like the Barbados Water Authority to be better prepared for the drought.
The problem is not merely about the obvious discomfort of having no water flowing through the taps. There will be negative fallout in critical areas. Daily, we have more than enough students across the island’s school system forced to return home early because of water outages –– a disruption of their education and the school syllabuses.
Workers too are forced to remain at home, lowering our already troubling productivity rate. Furthermore, tourism is our No. 1 business. If we can’t supply water to our local community, how can we provide for the thousands who venture to our shores?
The case for a national action plan is crystal clear.
It is evident then that water conservation should be foremost on the mind of everyone in this country. Government and the private sector need to work together to ensure efficiency in water distribution methods to cut down on wastage, employing appropriate technology and water-saving products where possible.
In this regard, we laud the BWA’s plans to address the problem, including the replacement of water mains in several areas, as well as increasing pumping at several wells to feed depleting reservoirs at Golden Ridge and Bowmanston.
Yet, there is only so much the BWA, Government and the private sector can do. Every single household has a responsibility to conserve water, whether or not there’s a water bill.
The fact remains that Barbados is a water-scarce country, and while drought may inflame the issue, water paucity problems will remain a challenge as we continue to grow and expand as a country. We cannot avoid working on a long-term plan that must include more efficient conservation and water management.
Our water is a limited resource, and we need to treat it as such.