Posts Tagged ‘Wateraid’

So it’s been nearly two years since I’ve posted, so long in fact that I had forgotten my wordpress password. But the recent events in the developing country of NI has been a (metaphorical) bucket of cold water in the face and has awoken me from my cyberspace hibernation.

You will have found it hard to miss all the news as Northern Ireland has been splashed (pun intended) and flashed across the newspapers and TV due to the lack of running water, at one point, to over 50,000 homes. Some homes have been without running water for over 10 days resulting in the country being likened to the third world… but I’ll come back to that later. Of course the blame for this ‘scandal’ has been placed firmly with Northern Ireland Water, the company which as it’s name suggests is responsible for, well… Northern Ireland Water.

So here’s my question:  What is the real scandal? Northern Ireland Water (let’s call them NIW) obviously are accountable – they are responsible for ensuring a safe clean water supply to our homes. We pay for this service through our rates. Ministers from our wonderful power-sharing executive have been outspoken with helpful comments like, ‘Heads must roll’. Yeah, thanks, actually what most people want right now is water from their taps, not the promise of public executions. But I’ll come back to our politicians in a minute.

Certainly NIW have a lot to answer for but surely they deserve a bit of slack. The recent mini Ice Age we experienced was unprecendented, with no-one predicting the extent of the deep freeze. Much of initial water shortage (those who were without water over Christmas) was due to frozen supply pipes. Temperatures during this period dipped to as low as minus 18 degrees celsius. There was clearly nothing NIW could have done about this. The main problem to supply occurred after the thaw. It was only then that the extent of burst pipes became apparent. Until then NIW could not have repaired these pipes. In addition, one of the main reasons that reservoirs ran so low was that the thaw occurred when many businesses were closed. This meant burst pipes remained undiscovered -again there was little that NIW could have done about this. I also think  NIW deserve some credit for the work carried out in the past 3 days. In this time they have restored water supply to over 40,000 homes (the majority of those affected). Given the scale of the problem, this is no mean feat.

Despite all this it is fair to say that key people in NIW should have better anticipated the problems that were likely to occur. But in my opinion, the main failing of NIW was in communication. They didn’t have the infrastructure to deal with volume of calls they received and their website was a shambles. For example while the BBC were reporting that Coleraine was one of the worse affected areas, the NIW website didn’t have any mention of Coleraine supplies being cut off. When they did finally mention Coleraine in update it was to inform customers that their supply had been turned off the night before! This lack of information and misinformation resulted in panic and I think is what angered most people. Rumours spread, with every man and his dog fearing they would be without water in the coming hours. Baths, pots, buckets and all sorts of receptacles were filled (mostly unnecessarily) in anticipation of the taps running dry. This of course further confounded the depleted supply in reservoirs. Some of course stepped up offering to help. One friend of mine offered to turn his garden sprinkler system off for a couple of hours. Another began selling his water on Ebay. And most embarrassingly, Scotland sent us billions of litres of water in aid.

So back my question: What is the real scandal? Is it how NIW have underperformed? Is it perhaps the fact that our polititicians took so long to knock their heads together to try and sort out the mess before jumping on the bandwagon of blaming someone else? Does no-one else think that perhaps our elected government could have acted quicker? Instead they decided to meet only yesterday, by which time most of the water supply problem had been sorted. And have they presented the people they serve with a constructive solution to the problem? Eh, no. All they have promised is retribution for the failings of NIW and maybe a bit of money for anyone who has been upset at being dirty for a few days. Certainly there is a case for some scandal here but this I believe is not the real scandal.

What is the real scandal? Well, you’ve waited long enough wading through enough of my ranting and rambling, so I’ll tell you; The real scandal is how shocked the world has been seeing pictures of white people in the developed world having to queue for bottles of water.

Which of the pictures above is really more troubling? The fact is we’re quite used and dare I say it all too content to see pictures of African children queuing to get water from a well or a puddle they’ve walked maybe tens of miles to reach. Can you imagine what the politicians (and the rest of us) would be saying if our experience was as in the 2nd picture? Well here’s some facts to sober us all up a bit (it’s worth reading the next bit slowly & allowing the horrible reality to sink in):

  • Today 4,000 children will die from drinking dirty water. (Source:
  • One in eight people in the world do not have access to clean water. (Source:
  • 2.5 billion people live without appropriate sanitation (defined as safe and clean disposal of human urine and faeces). (Source:
  • A lack of clean water kills more people every day than anything. And here’s the thing, the estimated cost to make clean water available to everyone is $10 Billion.’ (Americans spend $450 billion EVERY year on Christmas alone). (Source: The advent conspiracy. It’s worth checking out this video!)

Our house was without a full water supply for maybe 36 hours, obviously not as bad as many. But let’s face it, the worst that resulted for the majority of us affected was a bit of inconvenience. I actually in some way enjoyed the adventure of it -having to be resourceful and thoughtful about how to use the water we had left. It certainly made me appreciative of the basic things we enjoy in this country which we totally take for granted. And it made me think of our brothers and sisters around the world who suffer and die on a daily basis because of a simple lack of water. So I actually think the water crisis in Northern Ireland has been a good thing. I would even go so far as to suggest that Northern Ireland Water should think about turning off the supply regularly one day a year – just to cause us to think and be thankful!

Here’s some links to how you can contribute to helping the real water crisis worldwide: (Worldvision)