R. Rose
April 16, 2010
Water and sanitation – Invaluable services

Oh! How glad are we that the heavens have opened up at long last! The praises to the Almighty (from those who remember to be thankful) pour out to match the showers. The long, dry period was really getting to us. You could almost feel the testiness as it wore on. But this was not really a drought in the classic sense. Millions of people all over the world would make a wishful smile if they heard of our few-month inconvenience. That’s how lucky we are – all the more reason to be grateful.{{more}} Though we have received some showers, we must not for one moment drop our guard and consider that the dry spell is over. It’s too early for that. Our relief in the break in the weather must not be allowed to cloud our thoughts. The weather forecasters have not yet dropped their warnings and we have nothing to lose, and everything to gain by still practising conservation.

If anything, the dry spell must have brought home to us quite forcefully how important is water to our very existence. It is a vital necessity that we take for granted, seemingly bliss to the extreme difficulties forcing so many people the world over in getting access to this life-sustaining substance. An estimated 884 million people in the world, one-eighth of the world’s population, are not so lucky, lacking access to safe water. As a result, more lives are lost annually than by guns in wars. The inter-connection between water and proper sanitation is an important fact, and contamination and disease are prevalent, and deadly where there is no proper separation of human excretement from human contact. Not only does this result in massive loss of life, but also impacts negatively on productivity in the long run. We, who are largely safe from these ravages, take our successes in this area for granted.

That take-for-granted attitude is reflected in our oft-repeated phrase “God water free”. God’s water may be free, but access to it certainly isn’t, and it is not going to be available in our homes free of cost. Even when people are prepared to pay, potable water is not always available. There are countries with ample water supplies where many villages, and villagers, cannot get water at their convenience, Guyana and Dominica right here in our region being examples. But we in St. Vincent use healthy, drinking water to wash and clean on a daily basis, and think nothing of it.

During the dry spell, though, some areas had periodic restrictions on supply, by and large, water was available to the vast majority of our people on a daily basis, to thousands, 24×7. We, who are so ready to criticize publicly any and every slip-up, how many of us have found time to appreciate the value of the service provided by the Central Water and Sewerage Authority (CWSA)? How many of us have called into our favourite radio stations to voice such appreciation?

The CWSA was able to accomplish this in spite of the blatant disregard of so many of us for its constant advice on conservation. Similarly, it provides an excellent waste disposal service. Not without its own shortcomings, of course, but much better than what obtains in many of our neighbouring states. Do we realize that? It seems not, judging by our wanton littering. We throw garbage out of cars, vans, buses, trucks, all along the side of the road, clogging gutters. We purchase fast food, eat, and then recklessly dispose of the containers, not even willing to undergo the inconvenience of walking a few feet to the nearest bin.

Maybe it is because water and waste disposal are such cheap services here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines that we don’t seem to value their true worth. Just think of it! Many of us pay $20-30 EC for A MONTH’S SUPPLY OF POTABLE WATER. Clean, drinking water that we flush down our toilets and all! By comparison, how much do we pay for telephone bills, for cable TV even? An amount that is several times the cost of water. When oil prices went up, so did electricity rates and the cost of many commodities. Our water rates remained constant, our sanitation services reliable. Among the poorest of us, there are many who spend more money on phone cards in a week than on this most precious necessity for a whole month.

All these truths must now be brought home to us by the dry spell. The CWSA must intensify its messages of conservation and the connection between sanitation and health. Our country is not just about complaints and what “dey” doing wrong. Much good can be brought about by awareness, consciousness and appreciation of the positives we have achieved. Water and sanitation are among these. Not perfect, but a platform on which to build.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.