Droughts are acts of God but water shortages are acts of man and the failure to act.” – Jamaica Observer
In the rural parish of St Joseph, a working mother of three complains: “How many more days must I bathe myself and three children using a pep bottle of water?” In St Andrew, a resident wonders: “When next will I see the water truck? A whole week gone.” In St John, a frustrated elderly man declares: “I am 83 years old, I can’t get to nuh stand pipe for water. I thought dem days gone.” And in St Thomas, a farmer laments: “I can’t tek it, my animals ain’t gine mek it, this ain’t fair, we suffering down here.”
For almost a year now, these have been the everyday lamentations of Barbadians forced to cope with an unprecedented water crisis.
Even for those fortunate enough to have the now high privilege of water flowing through their taps without interruption, this situation is agonizing, atrocious and embarrassing for an island counting down the days to a grand celebration of 50 years of nationhood.
Frankly, while we escaped catastrophe from the passage of Tropical Storm Matthew a week ago, this water disaster has taken a stranglehold for far too long, with no relief in sight.
At this stage, it is pointless to engage in a name-blame-shame game. The visible suffering of Barbadians across the length and breadth of this island demands that every right-thinking citizen be mobilized to find a solution.
The Barbados Water Authority (BWA) has blamed the problem on the severe drought conditions the island experienced over the last few months, as well as on old and decaying water mains, some of which were 120 years old.
And months ago, the no-nonsense Minister of Water Resources Dr David Estwick detailed a plan to alleviate the crisis. It included a water prohibition plan, the importation of emergency desalination plants, the construction of two permanent desalination plants, the installation of community water tanks, along with the ongoing mains replacement programme.
Some of the measures have been implemented- others are still to come- but the situation has worsened and not surprisingly.
This water crisis did not start yesterday. Barbados has long been designated a water-scarce country but Governments have been guilty of negligence. The BWA’s failure to put a comprehensive plan in place is beyond dispute and Barbadians themselves have been complacent, failing to conserve the precious resource, and now we are grappling to correct our failings.
The tension is mounting as water-starved residents demand fewer promises and tough action.
We aver it must start at the top. Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has already empathized with those suffering from dry taps. But that cannot drench the appetite of Barbadians, who still receive monthly bills despite having no running water to cook, to clean, to take a bath.
Mr Stuart must place water at the centre of his agenda, bearing in mind that an ever developing Barbados means the island’s water needs will only increase.
Given the present situation, perhaps the time has come for Government to confess that the problem is bigger than the BWA and the Prime Minister himself must lead all stakeholders to look into how we are really faring against this crisis.
We cannot continue on the current path. But to go forward we need the coming together of political will, thinkers, doers, all Barbadians who are capable of seeing further down the line than the next election. Engineers, farmers, environmentalists, academics, every one of us. And we need to do it now. Time, like water, is running out.