Whenever a story takes on a human face as a result of being narrated by persons actually living the experience, it assumes a special meaning and relevance which are powerfully communicated through an emotional connection between the storyteller and the audience.
Such was the case yesterday when residents of parts of the island plagued by persistent water outages shared their experiences with the media. They did so in the presence of Opposition Leader Mia Mottley after presenting a letter to the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) drawing attention to their plight.
Their touching stories presented a catalogue of inconvenience and disruption which the persistent lack of pipe-borne water was having on daily life for many St Joseph, St Thomas, St Andrew, St Peter and St Lucy households in particular.
Their experiences brought back memories of 50 years ago when most homes in rural Barbados were without pipe-borne water and daily trips to the standpipe were the norm. That this should be happening during the golden jubilee of Independence –– meant as a celebration of Barbadian progress –– is especially unfortunate.
“I have to use my car to go as far as Speightstown to fetch water,” said one Boscobel, St Peter resident. “This is taking a toll on my car. I now have to buy water to drink. The situation is affecting me financially, emotionally, spiritually –– and even my health.”
“The BWA is still sending me bills, although I do not get any water,” said another resident from the same community. “It is outrageous. I want to be able to use my toilet instead of lifting buckets of water to flush it. We cannot wash our hands properly when we use the bathroom.”
“By five o’clock this morning, I was in St Andrew looking for water . . . ,” said a resident of Bissex, St Joseph. “As I speak, I have only two buckets of drinking water at home. This problem has been going on for the past 30 years. Some of the children of my district could not attend school this morning.”
“I have three grandsons at home without water,” said another St Joseph resident. “There are shut-ins in St Joseph who are unable to get water. I visited my mother in Barbarees Hill, St Michael, to do my washing. I also visited St Philip to do my washing, and I am fed up.”
These poignant cries should have resonated with the rest of Barbados that enjoys a regular supply of water. Anyone who unexpectedly has had to go without water –– if only for a few hours because of a local outage –– can very well imagine what it would be like for several weeks. It obviously is not a pleasant experience.
The BWA’s motto is Choose Water First. Ironically, many Barbadians currently cannot make this choice because of the crisis that calls for a much more urgent intervention at the governmental level. Successive administrations, formed by both the Democratic Labour Party and Barbados Labour Party, must share the blame. The crisis is the obvious outcome of poor planning.
The rapid modernization of Barbados over the past 50 years, especially the launch of several new housing developments, clearly pointed to a corresponding growth in the demand for water. Even if such was anticipated, the necessary provision clearly was not made. Little wonder we are witnessing a knee-jerk reaction to the crisis.
In a more mature democracy, with a modern system of governance, accountability to the public would be required. Unfortunately, however, for too long in Barbados we have tolerated a culture of anything goes, especially among providers of some vital services. It is about time Barbadians start to demand better. Hopefully, the stand taken by the residents of communities affected by the water crisis, represents a turning point in this regard.
The crisis also raises the question of whether the building of a new multimillion-dollar headquarters for the BWA was really a pressing need in the circumstances. It appears to be a case where the cart was placed before the horse. As the new headquarters went up, the BWA’s delivery capacity clearly went down.
It would be refreshing to see Prime Minister Freundel Stuart touring the affected communities to hear the concerns of residents, and outlining Government’s plans to bring relief. As CEO of Government, he should. Yet another case where he has been too silent and too much in the background.
In times of crisis, Barbadians always look to the leader of Government for clear direction.