WITH the 2019 rainy season approaching its end, the report of lower-than-average water levels in the nation’s dams is deeply disturbing. According to the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA), as at last Tuesday Hollis Dam was at 44.75 per cent capacity, Caroni Arena Dam at 52.01 per cent and Navet Dam at 36.42 per cent.
In Tobago, the picture was completely different, with the Hillsborough Dam at 100 per cent capacity. WASA attributes Trinidad’s low levels to below average rainfall throughout the 2019 wet season. Exactly how much below average, it did not say. However, with the Met Service projecting above-normal rainfall for the period November to January, dam levels should improve—assuming WASA’s shortfall is not due to other factors.
A wetter end to the 2019 rainy season is, however, no guarantee of relief and raises the concern that if the island’s accumulated water levels are so low by the end the rainy season, what will be the position at the height of the coming dry season. Unless, by some strange twist of weather conditions, the 2020 dry season turns out to be wetter than this year’s rainy season, Trinidad is in for very serious water problems.
For thousands of citizens, especially those in rural areas, the Met Service’s rainfall outlook makes no difference. They already contend with the daily reality of dry taps and, in some cases, are not even on the national grid of pipe-borne water. They have lived through enough empty promises of water to recognise their marginalisation from the authorities’ consciousness, except during election campaigns when politicians come seeking their votes.
Last week, it was the turn of Public Utilities Minister Robert Le Hunte to defend the Government’s performance when the PNM’s local government election wagon rolled into Siparia. With no clear answer to water problems being experienced by consumers in South Trinidad, Minister Le Hunte betrayed his helplessness with the declaration: “I am not a magician...”
To this, the response of the water-deprived public might well be that it is not looking for magic, but for good governance with effective solutions.
In expressing his impotence, Minister Le Hunte joins an unbroken line of Public Utilities ministers who have been defeated by the massive combination of problems that have made the nation’s water supply an intractable problem. Almost 20 years after the Panday administration’s declaration of “water for all by 2000”, the country is as distant as ever from that reality, notwithstanding the State’s huge financial commitment to Desalcott’s desalination plant, then promoted as the solution to end all problems.
Recall the boast of then-public utilities minister Ganga Singh as he touted the desalination plant: “Our mission of ‘water for all’ is the assertion of a basic human right as enshrined in the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago, namely—the right of the individual to life.” That, too, proved to be another mirage. With all the resources that Trinidad and Tobago has enjoyed, there is no reason why any citizen should be without water in 2019.
Instead, for many, especially the rural poor, water has attained the status of a privilege that is denied to them.