A collaborative effort between the Central Water and Sewage Authority (CWSA), Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday, and Deputy Director of Grenadines Affairs, Herman Belmar saw much-needed water being distributed to residents of Bequia on Thursday.
In the 2005, 2010 and 2015 general elections, Belmar and Friday were separated by politics, as they were candidates respectively for the ruling Unity Labour Party and the main opposition New Democratic Party.
However, last week they were united by a recurring theme of life in the Grenadines: water woes.
In a Facebook post, on Thursday, Friday said the water was “desperately needed”.
There are no rivers or streams in the Grenadines and residents have no access to a municipal supply of pipe borne water.
They depend mainly on rainfall to fill up cisterns.
However, St. Vincent and the Grenadines is experiencing a drought that is so bad that the CWSA has had to institute water rationing on St. Vincent, which has a municipal supply of pipe-borne water. In some cases, CWSA has had to truck water to some areas of the island.
The country is experiencing a decreased supply of water amidst the COVID-19 pandemic against which frequent hand-washing with soap and water has been identified as a main preventative measure.
Speaking on Xtreme FM, on Thursday, the opposition leader said that growing up in the Grenadines, water shortage has always been a problem in the dry season.
“We sort of take it for granted that in the Grenadines, in the dry season, you will have a water problem and it’s just part of our lot. But, in fact, we need to change that going forward,” he said.
“These are things that, 50 years ago might have been tolerable. Nowadays, it is just simply unacceptable. We need to change that so that we can have sufficient water supply.”
Friday said there had been reservoirs from the colonial days that went into centralised tanks connected to standpipes along the road.
He said there were two problems with this, the first being that one would hope to move to pipe borne water in residents’ homes.
Another issue was that the quality of the water was suspect “because it is an open area that is a catchment area and it is not purified or anything.
“So we need to go beyond that now. Desalination, for example, is something that is used all over the world. They grow vegetables in desert areas in Israel and other places that are in worse drought condition than ours because they use technology to produce water and the technology is there to make it affordable.
“So I think we have to seriously think of ending the Grenadines water problem once and for all,” Friday said.
He said there is a desalination plant in Bequia that started more as a demonstration project funded by the World Bank with Belmar pushing it, almost on his own.
“There isn’t much [other] input…” Friday said and gave Belmar credit for his efforts.
He said that solar panels are now more cost effective and efficient for use in desalination, noting that areas with water shortage tend to be sunny.
“And we have to solve that problem. Water should not be a problem for the Grenadines going deep into this 21st century. It is simply not acceptable and now the situation we have now, the problem with COVID, it seems that we have a perfect storm because the COVID virus, for us to combat it properly, you need to have proper hygiene, you have to wash your hands constantly.
“Imagine you are in a school, you are telling children to do this but then you are telling them to turn off the water. They won’t be able to practice proper hygiene.”
He said that people in Bequia do not now have running water in their homes because their tanks have gone empty.
He noted that in St. Vincent, the CWSA has had to ration water in some areas.
The opposition leader said that up to that point he had not seen a response from the CWSA.
“Right now, we are in a crisis situation. There must be an emergency supply of water…” he said.
He said that some people with small water tanks have been getting from their neighbours, whose tanks, in turn, have gone dry.
The next option is to buy water, he said, adding that in Bequia, it cost EC$300 to buy and transport 1,000 gallons of water.
“It’s one thing we know very well in the Grenadines is how to conserve water so they will make that last as long as possible but you have to cut back on doing basic things,” he said.
The opposition leader said that people would cut out optional things such as keeping their garden plants alive.
“Everybody is at home right now, you are telling them to stay home [because of COVID-19] so you are using even more water at home. The two things don’t go together very well and we are in a real crisis situation for us here. … CWSA has a mandate to provide water throughout St. Vincent and the Grenadines. This is something they ought to be doing…
“It has to be not an episodic thing. It has to be a structured and very organised way of presenting water in a crisis. This is a crisis situation; people simply don’t have water,” he said.
He said that the drought in 2019 was deceptive in that the land looked green, even in Bequia, because of intermittent drizzle every few days.
“Not three or four weeks without rain. The land looked really green there, but now, in the last month or two, it’s been really, really parched… so we need relief and their needs to be an emergency delivery of water to Bequia and Union Island.
“We need to find a way to provide water immediately then plan long-term to get rid of this problem once and for all,” he said, adding that school cannot reopen in the Grenadines with water shortage.
Speaking on NBC radio earlier this week, Chief Executive Officer of CWSA, Garth Saunders said the lack of rainfall rather than the extra washing of hands as a result of COVID-19 caused the CWSA to be unable to meet its 24-hour demand.
Saunders said that, for the first three months of 2019, there were 27 inches of rainfall in the areas of the Montreal and Dallaway water systems.
For the same period in 2020, rainfall in Montreal was 19 inches and 20 inches in Dallaway.
The CWSA chief executive further said that over the last 10-12 years, the CWSA has increased its water storage from 3.6 million gallons to 5.4 million gallons in St. Vincent.
The CWSA also built 11 storage tanks across the country, he said.