Letters & Opinion

WASCO Water Problems: The New CEO “Bells the Cat”

Sylvestre Phillip M.B.E
By Sylvestre Phillip M.B.E

THE St. Lucia Water and Sewerage Company has had a perennial water problem. By perennial I mean that the problem has existed for a very long time. And unless something is done quickly, that problem may remain with us infinitely.

More than three decades ago, former Prime Minister John Compton  continued to indicate that the underground water lines were aging and that they should be changed.

Indeed, I have several copies of past budget addresses in which the issue of the WASCO underground water lines are highlighted as needing to be changed.

Now after forty years of operations, the WASCO problem still continues.

I live at White Rock, Grand Riviere, my home for more than three decades. My family has experienced regular disruption in the water service, and the recent water shut-down is the classic.

Now what are the problems associated with the lack of fresh running water. Persons would be tempted to use water that is contaminated, which may transmit diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio, putting pressure on the health system.

But more than that, COVID-19 has not left us completely. The disease is still around. And we know that water is needed to ‘fight’ the scourge.

Now safe and running water is need in schools for drinking, flushing of toilets and running the school feeding programme.

Safe running water is needed at hospitals, Health and Wellness Centres and other health institutions.

Safe running water is also need in sports facilities. It’s also needed in churches where people congregate in large numbers. Safe running water is needed in homes for domestic use.

It means therefore that a lack of safe running water could disrupt life in our communities severely.

Indeed, there are natural situations which could create a water crisis. The first one I wish to highlight is drought. We are now entering the drought period in St. Lucia, which we are accustomed to.

Now we know that prolonged droughts could affect our ecosystem, with dire consequences for both plants and animals. At that point, safe running water is greatly needed for use by humans, plants and animals.

Indeed, water and sanitation fuel productivity. By productivity I mean the economic activity of our country by way of goods and services going out of the country or coming into it.

Now I have highlighted some problems of the non-availability of safe running water.

In the past WASCO has done quite well with the distribution of water when there is a water crisis. At White Rock in Grand Riviere, for example, trucks come to deliver water, and when the trucks arrived, the WASCO workers would blow the horn  alerting members of the area that water is available. At that time, residents would quickly come with several buckets to collect water.

Now residents have moved from buckets to tanks and other forms of storage. However, during the recent water crisis, WASCO sent trucks to the various areas, but these trucks went to specific homes and fill their tanks giving an entire truck of water to one resident. Now I am not referring to persons who may have bought water from WASCO and the trucks came to deliver. Clearly, I did not get an indication that there was an organized method of distribution which ensured that as many residents as possible receive water from the water trucks.

Now, when I heard of the appointment of the current Chief Executive Officer of WASCO, I was very pleased. I know she was bringing to the post much experience about the operation of water, since she had worked there for some years before her appointment, and the knowledge she had about the St. Lucian populace.

But I knew she was going to head a company with a lot of serious problems. Because of the nature of the problems which the CEO had to address, I was not optimistic that she would be able to solve the problems overnight or in very short time. And that is why I have been so patient, or tolerant if you prefer, with the problems of WASCO.

As I see it, the problems of WASCO is not just technical but also managerial.

Let me take one aspect of the management issue. And that is Customer Relations. In all of the water crisis being experience by our various communities, it took the Chief Executive Officer to appear on television to inform customers about the reasons for the water shortages and the possible time in which the water would return.

Yes, it was good that the CEO was able to ‘take the bull by the horn’ and provide information to the general public, or more specifically, the customers of WASCO. But I ask, doesn’t WASCO have a Customer Relation Manager or officer. He or she should have been relaying information to their customers. Now, St. Lucians are very understanding people. Had WASCO provided their customers with timely information, they would not have been so irate. Communication was key in that instance.

Indeed, once information was shared with the consuming public, they would have been more tolerant about the inconveniences that they were experiencing.

WASCO needs a Customer Relations officer or the training services of a specialist, I am willing to offer my services.

Now I have spoken to the WASCO situation, but poor customer relation is a national problem.

To conclude, I wish to indicate that the water came to my house at White Rock on Wednesday morning to much celebration. However, the tap had no water on Wednesday evening. The water by then was gone!

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