New counter-El Niño measures to be announced shortly

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MINISTER of Housing and Water, Mr. Irfaan Ali said Friday that some initial measures precipitated by the current El Niño weather conditions being experienced here will be announced shortly, but stopped short of saying what those initiatives will be.

He made the announcement during the official commissioning of the Number Two Well Station at Lusignan, located in the compound of the Lusignan Community Centre Ground, East Coast of Demerara.

The new facility, which cost in the sum of $63.2M and was funded by the Basic Needs Trust Fund (BNTF), is projected to benefit close to 4,000 persons who will see a significant improvement in the quality of water. The well itself is some 890 feet.

Delivering the feature address at the function, the minister acknowledged the very difficult conditions being experienced not only here in Guyana but in the wider Caribbean as well with regard to sourcing water, and alluded to interventions being made by other CARICOM Member States to deal with the situation, such as Trinidad & Tobago which has resorted to rationing and the imposition of fines.

Underscoring the gravity of the situation, the Minister Ali observed that here in Guyana, “we seem not to appreciate the seriousness of this El Nino condition that we are faced with,” and said he was happy to see that the Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon, had touched on this very issue. “I am very happy that in today’s headline, the Head of the Presidential Secretariat made it clear that we may be moving very close and very sharply to impose restrictions.”

Recalling having warned about self restriction just two weeks ago, Minister Ali said it seems the message has fallen on deaf ears as it is not being taken with the seriousness with which it deserves. “So very shortly,” he said, “we will be announcing some initial measures that have been necessitated as a result of the situation we are faced with.”

Though he did not elaborate on the subject, in terms of what those measures will be, he did touch briefly on the issue of integrated water resource management, which is the direction GWI will have to take in the future, given the precarious position in which  the agricultural sector, especially the rice aspect of it, is placed because of the lack of water from the normal sources.

“The management of the resource, water, has to be in a way that we view this resource as an economic commodity that has serious social implications,” the minister said, adding that the reason Guyanese are not taking the matter as seriously as they ought to is because they’ve grown accustomed to hearing that ‘Guyana is the land of many waters’, and the government’s heavily subsiding the delivery of water.

Noting that capital investment per capita for the water sector this year has amounted to in excess of $3500, Minister Ali said: “Every person will not bear that direct cost, so we don’t have an appreciation for the cost, because it does not impact our pocket… but it does impact our lives.”

He made the point also that even though water is subsidized by as much as 450 per cent of the actual cost, yet still consumers are reluctant to pay up their water rates, and in a timely manner.

Insisting that conservation is very critical, and perhaps the only way out, Minister Ali said: “…in each of our homes and our lives, we have to lead as individuals a revolution in the conservation of water.”

It’s a concept, he said, that the GWI is trying to instill in the younger generation, by trying to get the subject incorporated into the school curriculum so they “…would have a greater appreciation for the importance of water.”

On the issue of internal and external implications associated with the non-revenue aspect of water, such as response time to leakages, the fixing of mains, breakages in the pipe system and suchlike, Minister Ali said these matters are at the top of GWI’s agenda this year. “We have tried many mechanisms, but I think this year, we are heavily focused on ensuring that we work within the stipulated time- frame the license subjects us to,” he said, but noted that at the end of the day, it is the people at the community level who are the foot soldiers, and “have to demonstrate an ability to care for the network, and to understand that we all have ownership in the network.”

Contending that water is not the preserve of GWI, but rather it is the people who are the owners of the commodity, he said: “… we have to ensure that just as we care for our personal assets, we must also care for national assets that have a personal impact on you.”

On the issue of metering, Minister Ali reiterated that the objective is not to impose hardship on people but “to help consumers manage their budget and conserve water.”

Noting that it is belief that “…El Niño is a warning for us to understand that water is indeed life,” and that it also has economic implications, the minister said: “It is time we get up, we understand, and we get serious with the issue of water.”

The Lusignan Well Station, Number Two, he said, was made possible through the support of the BNTF, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Local Government and the Neighbourhood Democratic Council, which two latter institutions were responsible for providing the piece of land on which the facility stands.

According to the minister, the Well Station is the first in a series of investment-oriented projects to be commissioned this year on the East Coast Demerara, and that hopefully, with the addition of another 600 house lots at Non-Pariel, and a further 300 at Hope, a new well will be established in the Enmore/Hope area.  Also delivering brief remarks were Region Four (Demerara/Mahaica) Chairman, M
r. Clement Corlette, and Director of Capital Investment and Planning, GWI, Mr. Altaf Gafoor.
Among those present at the commissioning were Board members Mr. Dharamkumar Seeraj, and Mr. Ramesh Dookhoo, along with Chief Executive Officer of GWI, Mr. Yuri Chandisingh.