Island ‘could have reacted sooner’ to severe water shortage

Click the pic to see full drought coverage

Click the pic to see full drought coverage

People on St Helena could have woken up much sooner to the impending threat of losing their water supply, according to engineer Martin Squibbs.

He told island broadcasters that the reality did not strike home until daily briefings on the crisis began – with parts of the island down to only six days’ supply.

In late May, a senior official had privately warned St Helena Online that people did not appear to understand the seriousness of a situation that could become “unpleasant”.

Martin said people had now heard the message. “There’s also trust that comes into this,” he said, “and I think the public are now aware.

“Our reservoirs in the Harper’s Valley are very nearly empty. That’s visible and it can be seen. Once that message got across we saw the reduction in consumption.

“If we keep the taps running there is a perception that the water is available.

“If we run out of water and we have to put tanks on the streets, that’s a very clear message that, hang on, we are really struggling here.

“If you had cut your consumption two weeks ago then it might have been different.

“What we need is reduction in consumption and we are getting it. People are trusting us to tell them the truth. I think we are doing that.”

The crisis has also caught officials unprepared, despite months of public comment about the hot summer and low rainfall.

In May, the French consul, Michel Dancoisne-Martineau published a table on his blog showing the island had only received just over a third of its average rainfall in the five months to the end of April.

Martin said at an earlier media briefing that the island’s only water-carrying bowser had been scrapped some years ago because it was mounted on a 1950s Bedford truck, which was considered outdated.

Chief of police Peter Coll said: “Had we had a bowser that was effective and roadworthy and working then we would have been in a better position now.

“So clearly that’s going to be part of the discussion about what we need for the future.

“We are not panicking. We are having to move pretty quickly and put some responses in place.”

Last week a search of the island was made for water tanks that could be mounted on vehicles to transport water.

Peter said: “I don’t think it’s particularly good that we have put in plastic containers and creating those sort of things.

“Clearly that’s something we have got to be better at in future, and we will be better at. But we have to deal with the situation we find it ourselves in now.”

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