The ongoing water scarcity issue in the region has been well documented. It has been linked to inadequate planning for housing and other infrastructural developments, as well as climate-related pressures.
According to data on Barbados, our freshwater resources are under immense pressure with domestic and commercial demand outstripping supply. Our water availability has been reported to be just 306 cubic metres per capita, per year. This situates the island as the 15th most water-scarce nation in the world.
Three years ago, the Caribbean Drought and Precipitation Monitoring Network (CDPN) contended that before long, declines in average rainfall in the region of 30 to 50 per cent are likely to be recorded in the Eastern Caribbean.
This prediction was made as countries like ours were registering increased saline levels in ground water sources located near the coasts. The Barbados Water Authority (BWA), the Government entity tasked with supplying us with potable water and managing our sewerage system, has conceded the tremendous pressure it is under to supply water to every home that is connected to its system.
Most of our water comes from rainfall, and in 2019, the country saw its lowest recorded levels since 1949, according to a report quoting BWA general manager Keithroy Halliday. It is estimated that about ten per cent of the island’s water supply comes from desalination facilities operated by the private sector.
Why is all this important? Today the country is into a new week of clean up efforts following explosions at the La Soufriere volcano in St Vincent and the Grenadines. That event resulted in a major ash fall on Barbados. But for many residents of St Joseph, efforts to cleanse themselves of the dangerous volcanic ash have been torturous due to a lack of water in many parts of the parish.
For several days, these beleaguered rural residents, have inundated local radio stations with complaints about the lack of water. Their inability to respond to the miserable, ashy conditions, pervading every inch of the island, has pushed these residents to the end of their tether.
These vocal, yet mild-mannered country folks, sat in their living rooms and watched as most of us hosed ash from our homes and driveways with precious drinking water. They, on the other hand, endured baths and prepared meals with bottles of precious water, while their ashy piles of laundry grow taller.
Yesterday, it seems the patience of some long-suffering St Joseph residents frayed a little too thin, and they took their anger out on their Member of Parliament, Dale Marshall.
While they could not get to Mr Marshall in person, they directed their frustrations to the next best thing – his constituency office, with a live Facebook stream to boot.
This was citizen action at its finest. No burning tires, no blocked roads, no effigies. Just frustrated citizens voicing to those in the seat of power that they have had enough. That they are not prepared to remain quiet any longer.
Water shortages seem endemic to these rural communities of St Joseph, St John, St Andrew and parts of St Lucy and St Thomas.
One cannot blame citizens if they feel as though they are being targeted for such disparate treatment by a state agency. It is reasonable for them to ask why are water shortages not reported with such frequency in Bridgetown, Warrens, Sandy Lane, Coverley, Millennium Height, Sheraton, Kingsland, Rowans Park or Fort George Heights?
Why are poor, country folk saddled with this perennial problem of long periods without water and inconsistent refilling of water tanks in their communities?
Why should these Barbadians, who contribute as much anyone else to this country, be forced to question whether their MPs care? Why is there not more vocal representation on behalf of these constituents on such a critical, long-standing matter?
It is not unreasonable to ask the current administration what has happened to the plans to construct mini-desalination plants to fill the void that clearly cannot be occupied by the BWA on a consistent basis, utilising the traditional underground sources.
Admittedly, the cost associated with installing more desalination facilities will likely find its way to consumers. We contend that water is too precious a commodity and too important to the survival and the quality of life of citizens, for it not to be made a top priority.
Wilfred Abraham, who last year held the portfolio of Minister of Energy and Water Resources issued this statement in response to complaints from residents of St John.
“In the last quarter of 2019, the Meteorological Services confirmed that Barbados was experiencing its worst drought conditions since 1948 and the international experts have indicated that the low rainfall total shall continue.
“It is to be noted that contrary to what is being said in other circles, each day, the BWA pumps water into the affected areas until the reservoir is depleted and this the BWA has articulated on a constant and consistent basis.
“Once there is water in the reservoir, that water is fed into the system until the reservoir is entirely dry . . . . The taps are dry until the reservoir is replenished.
“The lack of water is not a result of deliberate rationing.” That was last year’s explanation to St John residents, who famously marched on the BWA headquarters.
Certainly, the time has long gone for a solution to be found to this issue. We certainly cannot successfully pursue developed country status when so many districts cannot be guaranteed a consistent, quality supply of water to their homes and businesses.