This week, I raise a few questions that have been triggered by stories in recent media reporting. I noted that the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) has intentions of changing the water table restrictions in Barbados. While I agree with that move in principle, I feel like way more public discourse and engagement are necessary.
I am aware that the effort to change the water table started a few years well now. I am not sure if there were initial public engagement sessions but I believe that dialogue is necessary going forward. Barbados’ water supply is largely an underground one. When restrictions are relaxed, I think the success of the initiative will have a lot to do with how Barbadians are willing to change their views and approaches to the environment.
I made the point with the adjustments to single use plastics that the overall campaign to challenge Barbadians about their care of and connectivity to the environment was lacking. While it may be better to have a biodegradable carton next to a roadway than a plastic bag, the point is that the goal is really to have no litter at all. In the same way, since changes to the water table will mean the construction of dwelling houses closer to key pieces of Barbados’ water resource network, how do we retrain people to minimize bad habits?
For a long time I have been concerned about how Barbadians use pesticides and how free they are to spray these dangerous chemicals into the ground. I feel as though the Barbados Water Authority has not done enough to indicate whether sprays impact our water quality or not and if they do, what are the best practices that people should at least try to observe.
Apart from those water quality and environmental concerns, any change that the Barbados Water Authority announces takes me to the point of their resource management and customer service ability. We are in a period where nightly shut offs are being undertaken to ensure that all customers can retain running water.
However, this is running concurrently with the wastage that continues to be a feature in the supply network of the BWA. Again, on my weekend sojourns across the island I was saddened by several broken pipes. These pipes are invariably burst ‘on the water authority’s side’ because homeowners rush to do repairs otherwise. There are literally gallons of clean water being lost from these unattended repairs. There is no accountability. When the leak is on a customer’s side, they ensure the high cost of the bill. When the leak is on BWA’s side, the only accumulation is moss.
In addition, there were a number of us who received astronomical bills in the last few years. Personally, I have been trying to get to the bottom of one for about five years well. Late last year, I was told that an accounts manager would be joining the BWA staff, and that that person would be responsible for returning those accounts to some regularity. Up to now, the matter is still outstanding.
I think the public is generally happy for any upgrades the BWA can make, but I believe to really get a better water service in Barbados, the trick lies in public disclosure and a willingness to stop pouring fine wine into old skins.
The other issue that I briefly want to comment on is the family court. I have seen some commentary about the coming court here and there but I am yet to get an overwhelming sense of excitement about the initiative. This is because I see some of the usual gaps in implementation occurring with this project. A day in court for a family that is in crisis or worse, living in generational dysfunction, is not a solution.
The court will rule on legal matters, which is an important part of unravelling the issues a family may have. However, there are more than legal issues involved and if we are serious about catering to the needs of families, an entire ecosystem will have to be established around the family court.
Let us take the issue of access where intimate partner violence has been a feature of the relationship between the parents. The court may rule on the legal matters of access and maintenance but the court is not present nor does it have oversight every time a child is to be dropped off and retrieved. These negotiations also need support mechanisms to keep all parties involved safe. When we build out the staff complement of the court, we will have to understand that the same social workers who manage cases cannot create reports.
We have to accept that creating reports for the court cannot be premium over case managers. There is also potentially a role for partnership between Government and civil society in service provision for vulnerable families. I really just hope that we are moving in a different way for a different result.
(Marsha Hinds is the President of the National Organisation of Women)
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