Water is a scarce commodity
Kaieteur News
March 30, 2007

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There is a potable water supply problem and this has been the case for a very long time. People began to recognise that having water pumped to their homes was a thing of the past so a great majority opted to buy water tanks and electric pumps to access water.

Of course, water tanks are nothing new to Guyana. In days gone by, people constructed huge vats that collected rain water which was used for just about every domestic purpose. Some went so far as to construct iron tanks because the wooden vat would eventually deteriorate with age although most have been known to last for three or four decades.

But every country develops and Guyana was no exception. The vats became things of the past. More sophisticated pumping stations emerged and people began to accept that they would always receive a constant supply of water.

Of course, Guyanese never expected to pay for this service because in the first instance they were led to believe that it was a right to access pure water. Ever since the first time the colonial authorities installed standpipes at intersections and maintained a regular supply of water the commodity has been free.

The time came when the government sank wells and increased the water distribution system, but bad times hit us and like so many aspects of national life, the water service also suffered, particularly in the city and in other parts of the country.

Initially, the excuse was that the city council could not cope with the task of providing water to the people so the administration de-linked the Georgetown Sewerage and Water Commissioners from the city council. GS&WC was the agency responsible for the provision of potable water.

Things did not improve so the administration set up a special agency that it called the Guyana Water Authority. This entity soon accepted responsibility for providing water to every household that was connected to the various distribution systems.

In the early days this was clearly the case in the rural communities where new mains were laid. But in the city the old mains remained underground. These mains began to break and to leak. At the same time the pumps began to break down so with the drop in water pressure impurities began to invade the water system.

Guyana began to attract aid and at one point there was the belief that enough money was on hand to rehabilitate the entire water distribution system in the city. Indeed, works to this effect began and in sections of the city, new lines were actually laid. But something went horribly wrong.

Again the government set about creating an entity to effectively manage the water distribution system and with funding from an international financial agency, hired a management team. The message was that Guyanese could not effectively manage the water distribution programme.

Guyanese were requested to pay for their water supply but for the greater part it was asking people to pay for something that they were not getting. Numerous complaints began to surface but the situation only became worse. They reached the stage where by presidential diktat, people were advised to withhold payment if they were not in receipt of a service.

The management team has been fired, but the situation of little or no water supply remains. One would expect that by now we would have got things right. Instead, more and more people are being denied access to potable water. In cases where a limited supply persists the water is discoloured.

Guyanese are a patient people but quite often they are pushed to the limit. The water supplier often appeals to people not to break the mains. In Bare Root there are water mains but there is no connection to the homes. Yet the water distributor asks people to refrain from breaking the mains to access water while they thirst.

Forget that people, whenever they could, must still fetch water in buckets and pails, sometimes having to climb stairs with their load.

Will there be some intervention? This is unlikely because people have been complaining for more than a decade without any sign of the situation being ameliorated. But this situation should not be allowed to continue.

Water is crucial and with all the problems people face they could do without another.