Development & Aid, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

POPULATION-TRINIDAD & TOBAGO: Govt. Presses On With ‘Water for All ‘ Project

Wesley Gibbings

PORT OF SPAIN, Jul 14 2000 (IPS) - The Basdeo Panday administration has ch anged gears, yet again, on its promise of ‘water for all’ by the end of the year with the suggestion this week that the target might indeed be met.

Last year, following the signing of a 20-year agreement to build a se a water desalination plant to produce 24 million Imperial Gallons of water da ily, the government had promised to ensure that every household in the country would have received a pipe-borne water supply by the end of 2000.

This was revised downward to a target of 80 percent coverage when the project ran into a financial snag. Now, the project appears to have come back on stream through the injection of 60 million dollars in financing raised on th e local and international markets.

When completed, the plant will be the largest of its kind in the West ern Hemisphere and the largest in the world using “reverse osmosis membra ne” technology, according to Executive Chairman of the Desalination Compa ny, Hafeez Karamath.

“Permanent financing for a transaction of this magnitude takes anywhe re from 18-24 months,” Karamath explained. “Too long to meet our delivery sch edule that would permit the government to deliver water for all by the year 2000 ..”

“Our mission of ‘water for all’ is the assertion of a basic human rig ht as enshrined in the constitution of Trinidad and Tobago, namely – the ri ght of the individual to life,” Public Utilities Minister, Ganga Singh said.

Singh described the government’s plans to achieve this as being “four -tier, solutions-oriented and holistic”, including the upgrading, expansion and refurbishing of water production plants in the north and south of Tri nidad and in Tobago, and the construction of the Central Trinidad-based desalin ation plant.

“The nation’s long-standing water woes must not be allowed to persist any further into the 21st century,” the minister said.

He said the project hinged around “our government’s philosophical sta nce which measures the quality of our democracy by the extent to which all citi zens have access to the basic amenities of water, electricity, postal and telep hone services.”

Ronald Huggins, Deputy Managing Director of Republic Bank – major financiers of the project – said access to “adequate potable water resources” was ” critical to the physical well-being of everyone resident in or visiting Trinid ad and Tobago, as well as to the growth and development of the national econ omy.”

Singh said the project was important for the social wellbeing of the country since “women and children bear the burden of a lack of water and poor water quality.”

“The provision of water for all is thus aimed at the elimination of g ender bias and the assertion of children’s rights and the promotion of good fami ly life,” the minister said.

Even more far-reaching, Singh said, were the implications of the proj ect on “the distinction between the rural and the urban.”

“Providing water for all our people provides for equality and equal opportunity regardless of location, thereby putting a definitive end to this part icular form of institutional discrimination,” he said.

The Opposition Peoples National Movement (PNM) has however dismissed the “water for all” project as an electioneering gimmick that will employ the us e of some statistical sleight of hand.

There are areas in Trinidad that have never had a pipe-borne water su pply and environmentalists worry about the capacity of reservoirs and watershe ds in Tobago to supply a sharply increasing demand.

The government, however, announced recently that new water sources ha d been unearthed in Tobago where two massive hotel projects are expected to draw heavily from existing supplies.

“The water problems of our beautiful sister-isle will soon be a thing of the past,” the minister said.

“Our larger vision which we are bent on realising, is one wherein all our citizens both in Trinidad and in Tobago, regardless of geographic, demographic, social, political or other considerations, will have access to a 24-h our water supply, seven days a week,” the minister said.

The high political premium being placed on this particular exercise b y the government is highlighted by an unprecedented wave of pipe-laying act ivity throughout the country and, as a consequence, a record target of road rehabilitation work before year’s end.

A general election is due by November and the general view here is th at the water project forms an integral part of the formidable campaign artil lery being assembled by the ruling party for the polls.

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