Pushing improving water service
I was ready to admit that the introduction of the new Ministerial team in charge of the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) has been a breath of fresh air, until water disappeared from the inner spine of this country, Monday into yesterday.
I was ready to praise Ministers for the tour of the Vineyard project and the BWA officials which explained how the process would work to alleviate the issues centred around the provision of more water to drought impacted regions of the east and central parishes of the island, showed that at least, at the present interval, Ministers have been listening.
My confidence yet again seemed that it has been misplaced because, the performance of the BWA when it comes to not only addressing the basic rights of Barbadians to quality water delivery, leaves a lot to be desired. Read a press release which says, ‘ongoing issues’ caused stations to go off-line, represents absolute garbage and enhances the view of the continued lack of information, which is provided to the public.
The 16-inch emergency burst main repairs at Jamestown Park – had no updated information up to Tuesday morning, as dry taps continued in the same area for over 24 hours, there was no update on the repair work at the aforementioned stations. The scope of disruption required top brass at the BWA to be visible, yet nothing. This is unacceptable!
The Ministers also need to address the South Coast Sewage project. Then, visit some of the installations, mainly the ones which consistently have issues and then make a random call to the Call Centre, when a burst is experienced anywhere.
It is also unconscionable for bills to be issued without getting regular potable water through taps. The first Cabinet paper which the new Minister of Water Resources should be sending to his colleagues should be a means through which after meter readings that those who do not get the minimum standard of water under the Fair Trading Commission (FTC), should not get a bill.
The Minister would be hampered by a tax announced two years ago by Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, Mia Amor Mottley, to add a tax of $1.50 per day on all water bills. The shamelessness of the lack of empathy which has hammered residents of St. John, St. Joseph, St. Thomas, St. Andrew and St. George, is a total governmental failure to address concerns which were so important to some of the same politicians in 2015/2016, when in Opposition that some of them participated in a march against water not being provided in the same parishes then. Of course, it was another government, yuh know, that poor government, ‘lost decade’... you should be all familiar with the catch-phrases.
The BWA must take some of the blame. We know there is a drought. We know of the problems faced by not being able to pump water into the impacted areas, but the BWA has failed to incorporate the concept of shared sacrifice for all Barbadians in the whole period of drought which the island is currently facing. The BWA continues to bemoan that water/rainfall levels are not where they usually are, but we are getting rain, so at least that is a step in the right direction.
There are areas of this country, which hardly encounter any drop in water pressure or outages and the residents of these impacted areas have a right to be aggrieved. One former colleague of mine who lives close to Six Roads constantly asks me why I continue to mention water problems when she has none.
The BWA needs to engage the country on all options which it has to address the problems which it faces. Being a drought prone and water scarce country is nothing new. The BWA also needs to step up its water trapping efforts and look at some of the natural streams which bless this island.
Clearly, there was a recent attempt to look at the contracts which were highlighted by the most recent Auditor General’s report. We should hear from the former Minister and former Board Chairman on these matters and what governed these decisions. However, how you cannot charge people a tax designed to fund the BWA’s sewage treatment plants and the Sanitation Services Authority (SSA), and they receive no water. In 2020, are we serious?
Clearly there was a move towards desalination, pre-2018 and we must all agree that this represents a clear recognition that we cannot only depend on high rainfall years. Any action which the BWA takes are long-term. It takes months to build and then commission a new reservoir. It takes time to lay the requisite pipes to move water into these areas, so stop suggesting that they are short-term solutions, when at the same time, you are asking Barbadians who have been excellent at conserving during the water prohibition, even through COVID-19 and a national shutdown and most people being home.
How have Barbadians responded to the water prohibitions? Have they not followed the rules? Just like COVID-19 regulations and directives, have not the majority done what is required, yet we only hear about those who cause problems?
The communication and total tone-deaf approach is staggeringly sub-standard. Recently, I returned home at 7 p.m., only to find the water off with the soothing tones of air coming out of my taps. No notice on any of the BWA’s social media handles, yet this passes for what is acceptable.
Try calling the BWA hotline and see what I mean. “Well sir, they are working on it and it may come back on tonight,” is not good enough. I admit that there are improvements but we have some ways to go.
With no real opposition in Parliament, where do we go from here? FTC, you are the only hope for residents who are bearing the brunt of this!