The health alert issued by the United States embassy last week stating that the island’s drinking water was not fit for consumption – and which put Government on the back foot – is being seen as an open blessing by Minister of Housing Denis Kellman.
Kellman said the advisory cautioning embassy staff to either boil the tap water before drinking or use bottled water was “the best ad we ever received” for the quality of the water here.
In addition, he said by putting out the alert – which was available online to a global audience – the Americans had given Barbados an opportunity to show the world that the drinking water here was “better than anybody else’s water”.
“The American embassy gave the best ad that we ever received about our water. That was the best ad. You would never hear anybody say that our water bad anymore because they put out the advisory and we were able to put out the facts. So they promoted us and they gave us a platform to demonstrate that our water was better than anybody else’s water,” Kellman told the Democratic Labour Party’s St George South branch meeting at the Ellerton Primary School yesterday afternoon.
In a statement posted on the US embassy website late last Thursday afternoon the Americans said they had conducted tests recently on the tap water and had found “elevated levels” of bacteria.
“Recent tests at several US Embassy residences revealed bacteria at elevated levels in the tap water. As a precautionary measure, the US Embassy recommended to its staff to boil their drinking water or use bottled water,” the alert said.
It did not specify the locations of the residences where the tests were conducted, but it emerged last Friday at a meeting between Government and US Ambassador Linda Taglialatera that tests were done at five of the 68 staff residences, including Enterprise, Graeme Hall, Atlantic Shores and Palisades, Christ Church, all in close proximity to the sewage spill plaguing the south coast for close to two years.
Yet Kellman, the Member of Parliament for St Lucy, insisted that the advisory was one of the best endorsements ever for the local water supply.
“They [the Americans] said to you that ‘we accustomed drinking the water and never boiled it before’ and everybody got caught up with the advisory but forgot what they said. What the Americans said was that they drink our water while Bajans drinking bottled water. Think about it. If they are saying to boil it now then it meant that they were not boiling it before,” he stressed.
The alert appeared to have taken the authorities here by surprise, pressing Government into damage control mode, particularly since it came on the heels of travel advisories by the US, Canada and the United Kingdom over the ongoing south coast sewage crisis.
At a news conference last Friday afternoon following the meeting with Taglialatera, a Government team sought to discredit the American test by challenging the methodology used by the embassy, as well as complaining that no information was given on the lab used in the testing.
The Government delegation, headed by Minister of Foreign Affairs Senator Maxine McClean and Minister of Health John Boyce, and which included Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Anton Best, made it clear that the embassy officials had admitted that the laboratory tests had showed an absence of salmonella, coliform and E.Coli, the bacteria which would be of major concern to public health officials here.
Boyce and McClean had also issued a statement emphatically stating that “Barbados’ potable water is safe and meets the standards of the World Health Organisation (WHO) drinking water guidelines”.
However, despite the apparent common agreement that the US embassy had conducted its own tests, Kellman yesterday appeared to question the veracity of this, suggesting it was the Opposition Barbados Labour Party that had fed the embassy misinformation about the water quality.
“The information that the little parrot gave them misled them and caused to put out the advisory. I am telling you this because I could see a hand all over that. The Americans thought the information given was correct and stumped their toes. They were drinking this water all the time and nothing never happen. They were here ever since and drinking our water,” the minister stressed.
Amidst water shortages in several parishes back in 2016, a shirtless Kellman appeared in a Facebook video in December that year “about to drink my fourth glass of water”, while boasting of the quality of the water flowing through the taps here.
“We should be proud that to have country Barbados where we can get water that we can go to the tap, take a glass and drink it. That was not a myth. That is a fact,” Kellman had said after having a drink of water. He was roundly condemned for the video.