Most of us must thank God we do not have to suffer what Marcia Layne of Branchbury, St Joseph, does as a result of water outages. Many of us are thankful we do not have to endure what sheep farmer Theodore Jordan of Hillaby, St Andrew, has to –– his taps seemingly forever dry.
So many of us sing praises to the Lord that we do not have to cope without water for days on end in 21st century Barbados –– the way people in St Andrew, St Joseph, St Lucy and some areas in St Peter are forced to.
While our attention is on getting back into the work mood for the New Year, these afflicted residents must prime themselves for more dry taps and more misery, as their water problems mount rather that abate.
It would be farcical had it not been so sad that while $63 million is spent on a new headquarters building for the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) –– some might say a new palace –– the very people whom the BWA is expected to serve spend most of their time trying to catch a bath.
It would be laughable had it not been so painful that having been hit
with a 60 per cent rise in water rates, the rate at which consumers in the northern districts get water remains a major issue.
The BWA has said it is working on a plan to ease the problem.
“For a more reliable supply of water, the best approach is to get water into our mains that feed the affected districts. To achieve that end the BWA has started drilling in Sweet Vale, St George. We have started drilling boreholes that we want to put into supply,” acting general manager Dr John Mwansa announced last week.
In addition, he disclosed that over the last two years the BWA had been working with a private entity to develop a new feed at Groves, St Philip, to provide an additional three million gallons of water to supplement the supply to St Philip, Christ Church, St John, St Andrew and St Joseph.
But the people of these districts cannot wait, as their miseries continue. They deserve an immediate, if temporary remedy. And let’s not talk about water tanks because, from the look of things, this experiment has failed.
Just short of 16 years ago, in February, 2000, a desalination plant capable of producing 30,000 cubic metres of water per day was opened at Spring Garden, St Michael. Touted as the largest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere, it was meant to supply water to 44,000 people. The BWA must tell us whether the plant is operating to its full capacity.
The authority has spent tens of millions of dollars laying new pipes. It must report on how this has helped the situation, because people in the north of the island have seen no difference. If anything, the service has worsened. Yes, the BWA has a lot to answer for.
Calls for the clumsy despatch of Mr Mwansa –– for that’s what calling for his head to roll is –– will likely generate spontaneous outbursts of applause from the many people affected in one way or other by these messy water outages. It also makes for great theatre. However, removing the BWA acting general manager will make him nothing more than a sacrificial lamb; and it won’t make the problem go away.
Clearly, the problem runs far deeper that with the general manager. It lies at the feet of the Minister of Water Resource Development Dr David Estwick, and no anonymous reports of his talking, writing, screaming, and begging even, can absolve him of this responsibility.
It is the minister who sets policy; the general manager does not. It is the minister who must approve the request for a multimillion-dollar loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for new headquarters for the BWA. It is the minister whose responsibility it is to ensure every citizen of Barbados has adequate access to a reliable source of clean and fresh water. Dr Estwick’s responsibility cannot and ought not to be passed on to anyone else.
The former United States president Harry S. Truman kept a sign on his desk that read The Buck Stops Here. As it relates to the water problems, the buck stops with Dr Estwick. And if he wants an urgent resolution to this tragicomedy, he most definitely can get one. Otherwise, it is his head that must roll.
In any event, only the people of the affected districts will know whether they will be any less angry if Mr Mwansa’s head does roll. However,
one thing is certain, no retribution will ease their pain.
Only strong, direct and urgent action to fix the problem will. And it begins with the minister.