photo: John Samson

ORANJESTAD – In de Caribbean municipality of Statia, inhabitants are sounding the alarm. Even during the corona crisis, they only have fresh water flowing out of their pipes for a few hours a day.

Inhabitants are worried about the public health and want the Hague to intervene. “We can only get water from the pipes for a few hours in the morning and in the evening”, says a teacher.

The advice given to combat the corona virus is as follows: wash your hand as many times as possible. “Good hygiene is important and that is being hindered. It’s very frustrating”, according to the teacher.

 ‘Waking up early daily to fill buckets to flush your toilet with’

The situation has been going on for one and a half weeks. But the inhabitants have been dealing with an insecure water supply for years. The rationing of water is not always announced beforehand and when it goes into effect, water is only available between 05:00-08:00 and 17:00-20:00. “Sometimes water doesn’t even flow out of the tap at those times”, says the teacher.

“We have to wake up early daily to fill up buckets, otherwise you can’t flush the toilet. After you’ve had dinner, you can only do the dishes the next morning. And let’s not forget: this is a tropical island.”

Political scandal
Statia is the only Dutch municipality where water doesn’t always flow from the tap. Water was rationed at least ten different times last year. “Sometimes it goes on for days, sometimes weeks”, says a business owner.

The Kingdom government guarantees the supply of potable water. “Apparently that doesn’t apply to us”, says the business owner. “This would’ve become a political scandal a long time ago if it had happened in other municipalities.”

“It’s a fantastic island, but we are neglected by the Hague! I decided to fill up twenty jerry cans. Good people who are important for our economy are leaving because they have to live such a primitive life. And this is not something typical for the Caribbean. They don’t have to deal with this on Bonaire and Saba.”

The Hague’s promise

Exact Three years ago in April 2017, the Hague promised to ‘be at the ready to help Statia if the water shortage were to get out of hand’.

The Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management said that they were ‘speaking to all parties involved.’

The inhabitants demand action. “I don’t even lay all the blame for this on the utility company”, according to the teacher. “I do blame the Kingdom government, because they are responsible for a secure water supply. It’s time for MP’s to take action.”

“The municipality is worthless. They say: yes, you can fill buckets with water or use bottled water. Nice excuses but they don’t help with much. Through all those years that we’ve been rationing, a new production facility could’ve been set up.”

An owner of a hotel is even looking for an alternative so that he doesn’t have to rely tap water. His doing this by drilling for ground water.

Cistern sometimes has a dead rat in it
“Luckily I have a cistern at home which collects rain water”, a different hotelier says. “But it’s been dry for weeks and this can’t be happening during the corona crisis.”

“What really frightens me is a power outage”, says the business owner. “Because that happens a lot here. And my water pump would stop working then too.”

“Not everyone has a cistern. And you always face the risk that you might find a dead rat in it”, says the teacher.

“Water is not cheap here. That we only have water about half of the time, doesn’t result in any compensation. The capacity tariff is heavily subsidized by the Kingdom government.”

 ‘Communication is also a problem’

The different inhabitants that Caribbean Network spoke to this week, are bothered by the lack of communication. “The municipality doesn’t communicate, while they are very active on Facebook. Because they know how to post the weather report on a daily basis”, says a business owner.

There are a lot of complaints on Facebook too. “Suddenly water stops flowing out of the faucet and hours later you hear from the utility company that it’s being rationed”, says the teacher. “That’s how it goes nine out of ten times. It’s frustrating.”

Why and when the flow of potable water will be disrupted and when the problem will be solved, remains a mystery. Utility company Stuco was asked a response, but did not reply to the request.

Why anonymous?

Most inhabitants of Statia only want to tell their stories anonymously. The names are always known to the editorial staff. Sharing personal information and criticism is a sensitive subject on an island with 3.100 inhabitants. They do not wish to become the topic of the day and don’t want their friends and family to experience any inconvenience.