ORANJESTAD – The lack of tap water on Statia will most certainly last for months. Minister Van Nieuwenhuizen (Infrastructure and Water Management) promises an improvement by the end of 2020 and a proper solution in 2021. In the meantime people are getting worried, because more and more watermains are bursting.
Utilities company Stuco could not meet the demand for water for months already. But now there are days where no water flows out of the taps. A lot of inhabitants of the Caribbean municipality have to fill up buckets of water to be sure that they can shower, flush the toilet, or wash their dishes.
Minister: rationing on Statia will stop at the end of 2020
In a letter to Parliament, Van Nieuwenhuizen promised inhabitants that water rations will no longer be needed in a few months. In that same letter she writes that she will only be able to meet the higher demand for tap water in 2021.
The watermains that were installed are unsuitable. “This is a small island, with 3.000 people. Why can’t this be fixed quickly?”, said former delegate Astrid McKenzie-Tatem. In the meantime a water truck is driving by homes.
GroenLinks submits follow-up Parliamentary questions
Last month several inhabitants voiced their concerns to Caribbean Network. Groenlinks-MP Nevin Özütok submitted Parliamentary questions. “I am most certainly not satisfied, because I expect the government to take acute action. That’s why I will be submitting follow-up questions.”
GroenLinks-MP Özütok (Dutch spoken)
Drinking water production will be doubled by the end of this year according to the government. The watermains will also be replaced by then. The Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management has made funds available for that.
‘People wanted a back-up, but the government didn’t want cisterns’
Luckily a part of the population of Statia still has a cistern to mitigate the water shortage. But it is exactly these cisterns that the government opposed during the past few years, according to McKenzie-Tatem. “At a certain point they were no longer giving out permits to build cisterns, to force people to get connected to the water system. But what if you don’t have a cistern? What can you use to store water?”
Inhabitant René Pas found himself in this situation and has been searching for an apartment that has a cistern for weeks. “That a pipe might break once in a while, I can live with that”, says Pas. “But that you have water for two to three hours a day, for weeks on end? I have to fill a lot of buckets with water.”
McKenzie-Tatem believes that the government should be held responsible for the extra costs that inhabitants make due to the water supply problems. “That’s why some people are in a hard spot now and they have extra expenditures. Those bills have to go to the government.”
Appeal Dutch government: don’t hoard water!
Those who do have a cistern, were warned by the Dutch government commissioner to not fill those with drinking water. Various inhabitants are not listening to his appeal, because the dry season has started and the problems are just getting worse.
“When the government doesn’t deliver, people will come up with their own solutions”, according to René Pas. “And if that is: filling your cistern for six hours, than so be it.”
‘Never thought I would have to come into action for drinking water’
It’s not just Caribbean Network, but the National Ombudsman, Reinier van Zutphen, has also started getting complaints. He calls the problems with drinking water ‘grave’, especially because of the corona crisis, when people are supposed to wash their hands often. He is still waiting on a reply to the letter which he sent to the government.
National Ombudsman Van Zutphen (Dutch spoken)
Concerns about coronavirus and mosquitos
“This also has to do with public health”, says Marietza Patrick, who next to her job as a police officer lets out apartments. “One of my renters told me that they use the washing machine to store water. This is a tropical island, you’re going to get mosquitos.”
“The majority of the island is frustrated with the situation, we are in the middle of the corona crisis. And no one on this island will buy bottled water to wash their hands. The prices have also gone up.”
Patrick is experiencing the consequences of the water shortage herself. Last week the police officer assisted the fire department in putting out a big blaze at a historical monument. “When I got home and wanted to take a shower, there wasn’t any water flowing out of the tap. Frustrating. One fire and we can’t count on water at home.”
Communication still a problem
“Most people complain that the government doesn’t communicate in a timely manner as to when there won’t be any water. And that only happens via Facebook and what happens if you don’t have that?”, McKenzie-Tatem asks.
“And when something is announced on the radio, I get a feeling that it’s only for show”, says Pas. “I don’t hear anything concrete, if specialists are being flown in, or that the problems will be solved quickly.”
The blame shouldn’t be laid at the feet of technicians and plumbers of the utility company, according to the inhabitants. “These people are doing more than what can be expected from them to help us. This problem reaches far beyond Stuco”, says McKenzie-Tatem.
‘People are getting gloomy’
Several inhabitants have said that they are starting to notice that people are getting gloomy. “That there’s no point in talking, because nothing will happen”, says McKenzie-Tatem.
“I want members of Parliament to realize that we’ve been going through this for too long. It’s good that people are speaking up, because sometimes we don’t even have water during the allotted rationing hours”, is Patrick’s opinion.