Everyone in Guyana should have access to safe water

Consumer Concerns
By Eileen Cox
Stabroek News
April 8, 2001

"We are Guyana". So often that is our pattern of thinking. We travel on the mini- bus and we complain that they play "their" type of music, not ours. Well, they are coming up with some very beautiful tunes. The No.1 hit at present - 'It wasn't me' - has a very catchy tune. If they cease the vulgarity, we may well be happy to call that our form of music.

But I am not talking about music today. I am referring to water, that indispensable something in our lives. It must be safe for drinking, for bathing, for cooking, for washing. Is it so everywhere in Guyana? Definitely, NO.

First, let' s see what news we have on water. On March 21 we learnt that the United Nations Secretary General, Mr Kofi Annan, was urging the world to safeguard the global supply of healthy water and to ensure that everyone has access to it. We accept the message and that is the end of the matter. In one ear and out the other.

The Georgetown Sewer-age and Water Commission (GS&WC) sends consumers a Water Supply and Sewerage Service Bill which is being issued for the first time. One sheet explains the bill and gives the consumer tips on how to conserve water. This is to be read and remembered because the installation of meters is going ahead and if we continue to waste water, as we do, we will all be crying when we receive charges for metered water.

The GS&WC is now warning about water shortage, a warning that was expected weeks ago as we have had a very long dry season.

In Georgetown, as long as we are supplied with water that appears reasonably healthy, we are satisfied. After all, "We are Guyana". Little do we care about those who have no supply of safe water.

Let us spare a moment to consider the plight of consumers affected by the Omai Gold Mines spill of approximately 3.2 billion litres of cyanide and heavy metal laced tailings into the Omai River in August, 1995.

Negotiations followed and, in time, it was business as usual. Not so, for the riverain dwellers around Bartica who for generations have depended on the river as their one and only source of water. Now, they have lost confidence in the safety of the water and experience is teaching them that there should be no confidence. Their children who enjoy swimming and playing in the water suffer from skin rashes and skin diseases.

Communities in the Bartica area are most unhappy as "we" would be if we had to depend on river water that at one time was severely contaminated.

Residents of 14 riverain communities are now compelled to buy tanks to store water. They have to make adjustments to the roofing and guttering of their homes in order to collect water when it rains. In this severe drought, can "we" imagine what is their plight?

Out of sight, out of mind. There are few Rudy Grants among us so we spend no sleepless nights considering the plight of riverain consumers.

Wells are provided but are not adequate for the communities. Many residents have to walk long distances in order to obtain drinking water from these wells.

Let me ask a question? How many of us are aware that the Guyana Research Environmental and Educational Network (GREEN) was launched with Guyanese and American personnel specifically to assist these communities and to seek compensation for them? "They are out of sight," We are Guyana. We are well provided with drinking water.

A friend writes:

"Water rights and clean water will probably be recognized as one of the greatest issues and problems for the 21st century."

The Guyana Consumers' Association was told in December last year by Mr Patrick Hawker, the National Water Policy Adviser, that the Policy would be implemented after the National Elections. The Association was concerned about tariff levels and social inclusion. As stakeholders the Association looks forward to consultation on this.

It is the duty of us in the capital city to recognize the problems faced by consumers throughout Guyana. When we think "We are Guyana" that "we" must be all-inclusive. It is our duty to know what is occurring in all parts of our country and there is an obligation to seek safe water for all.