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Flashback: Icacos residents protesting after being without water for months.

Like countries around the world, water systems in Trinidad and Tobago that keep ecosystems thriving and feed a growing human population have become stressed.

Climate change is also altering patterns of weather and water around the world, causing shortages and droughts in some areas and floods in others.

The public’s view is that works done to reverse the effects of water shortage is comparable to a drop in the bucket.

In 2019, during his contribution to the budget debate, MP Ganga Singh, a former Water Resources Minister, said the People’s National Movement government was “waiting for water to fall from heaven” rather than putting measures in place in the event that the country faces a drought.

Guardian Media contacted Singh, who promised “water for all” at the end of the year 2,000. He declined to comment on why access to pipe-borne water has been a persistent struggle for many, what was needed to remedy the generational quandary and why every household in the country did not have pipe-borne water as he promised back then.

However, former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday did speak. He said renewing the country’s ageing water and wastewater infrastructure could help solve the struggles.

But Panday, who commissioned the first desalination plant, said unless there is proper management at Water and Sewerage Authority, the country’s water woes will go unabated.

“The problem is the politicians have used the WASA to give jobs to their friends and families based on nepotism, political patronage and so on. They just filled it there with people who were not trained at all to do anything, they just give jobs for votes. That happened both under the Peoples Partnership and PNM, it did not happen with us (referring to the United National Congress he led).”

Access to clean, reliable running water and safe sanitation are baseline conditions for health and well being.

However, they remain out of reach for many, especially those located in vulnerable communities scattered across the country. Better water access would allow these vulnerable communities to thrive.

Professor Reddock calls for critical changes

According to Professor Rhoda Reddock, the country’s governance structure has paved the way for the counterproductive operation of many agencies, WASA not being exempt.

The Head of the Centre for Gender and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies St Augustine campus and social activist said every election continuity across ministries is broken and projects either shelved or delayed.

“Every time a government changes we change all the ministries, all the ministers, all the allocation of responsibilities so departments have to move, we then change all the boards and sometimes it takes ages to get a board and by the time the board starts to work, we have another election. I think it is not a smart way of working we have to get mature and grown-up and not change every single board with every election.”

Professor Reddock explained that the country is at a critical juncture where serious decisions must be made about water management and society must be prepared to hold all the authorities accountable.

While sweeping changes have been announced to deal with the inefficiencies at WASA and talks about privatizing the organization have been raised, Professor Reddock believes it will not necessarily solve the crisis.

“I am not in favour of privatization of water, I believe there is enough that has been privatized that used to be common in the past but no longer is, so in other words, I believe the poor, elderly, the disabled, the marginalized, the rural communities must all have access to safe, clean and free drinking water, that is the most basic of human rights. We must get the centralized system right, we also have to build up community responsibilities for water.”

Efforts to close the water access gap in Trinidad and Tobago which has widened over 100 years is expected to be the priority of a newly appointed executive at WASA with Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales assuring that once critical programmes are launched, supply will be improved by the end of the year.

Until then, citizens wait with bated breath and bucket in hand.