The men overseeing St Helena’s fight to secure water supplies have pledged not to let the island be caught unready for such a crisis in the future.
Chief of Police Peter Coll also said it had implications for the future of tourism on the island.
Water engineer Martin Squibbs said he was “not interested” in allegations of past neglect – but he promised measures would be taken to avoid a repeat of the crisis, with homes just days away from having their water supply cut off, potentially for weeks.
The two men were responding to accusations put to them at the daily drought briefing on Thursday by Mike Olsson, editor of the St Helena Independent.
He said: “According to people out there, this has all come about because the horse has bolted; because of poor maintenance which has been going on long before Mr Squibbs.
“It is known that a pump at one of the principal boreholes, at Willowbank, has been there for years without any maintenance. There’s nothing to replace it with.
“There’s no equipment. Nothing works. We are running on a shoestring. And this will cost a lot of money.”
He also said the public audit office should be asked to investigate the cost of the crisis, and whether there had been failures in responsibility by the public services.
“I hope you will agree to have an audit after what is going on,” he said. “Containers full of water – what does it cost?”
He had previously pointed out that recommendations were made after a similar crisis in early 2006, when Longwood was without water.
Earlier in the week, Martin Squibbs had disclosed that a search had to be instituted across the island to find tanks that could be used to transport water. At one point, officials had found only four. “You can say what you like about that,” he said, “but in future we will have a record of that.”
He also said a functioning water bowser had been scrapped because it was mounted on a 1950s truck.
But at several points during the briefings, he said he was more concerned with heading off the threat of homes losing their water supply – possibly next week.
“Hindsight is a wonderful thing and we can all look back and say maybe we could have done things differently some years ago, or whatever.
“I’m not really interested in that. I’m interested in what we are doing now, what lessons are we learning and at the end of this operation we will learn the lessons and we will put in place contingencies for the future.”
Peter Coll pointed out that a disaster management adviser was already helping to prepare the island for the opening of the airport.
“I think it will be important for him to look at all of this,” he said. “I welcome a review of all of this because it’s an important issue and it may well affect tourism for the future.
“We just need to make sure we have the right equipment that is ready to roll and we have a smoother transition to this kind of operation in the future.”