Imagine having to bathe every day out of drums and buckets, depending on rainfall to decide between another trip to the river and no wash at all. Imagine having to ration water every day while your children brush their teeth, cringing while your entire family uses unfiltered water straight from the river; meanwhile you’re worried to death about your youngest using water you know is hazardous to their health. For residents of Dennery North this is no devilish fantasy; it’s reality! Their water from various river sources is, and has long been, plain and simple – deadly. But what to do?
“We cannot use the water for anything,” a woman from Derniere Riviere told the STAR recently. “Often we get some water once a week but we can’t even use it to wash. When the water is a little clear, we see worms squirming in it. We never get quality water. In the dry season, what we go through is unbearable. Even the toilet water is brown.”
Another resident: “Even when WASCO sends water for one day you can’t use it, you can’t drink it. It’s over ten years I’ve been buying water every day, $20 a bottle. Whenever I drink water from the pipe I end up in hospital hours later. Also there are those little red worms in the river water.”
A young resident in his 20s spoke about his journey to a water source that takes him almost a full day as he carries bucket after bucket through a forest to his house. He stores the water in a barrel. “When I have water, it doesn’t look like water. I’ve gotten sick from drinking it.” He says it’s the same quality he’s known all his life.
This month, however, there was a glimmer of hope. Following a series of town hall meetings and a public sensitization campaign, residents have been promised the Dennery North Water Supply Project will be implemented before year’s end, thanks to the generosity of the government of Mexico, and the mobilization of additional funds from the government of Saint Lucia.
The people of the area have, according to representatives of the United Nations Office, been using untreated water that typically comes directly from river sources. “There is no real treatment to take out all the mud,” said one official, “and solids that, many times, you see when it’s raining.”
Project Manager Marta Beltran Perez said at a recent town hall meeting in Aux Leon that the project that is being implemented in collaboration with the United Nations Office for Project Services and WASCO “will be looking at treating the water, so you get water in the pipe that is of a quality by international standards”.
Perez said the main purpose of the project was to supply good quality water. The second aspect, she said, is to ensure water is available on a regular basis:
“Not just once a week, or once a month. Those are the two objectives: that every drop of water supplied is treated and sufficient for you to live on.”
The Dennery North Water Supply Project will unfold in two phases, and though the Project Manager said completion of the first phase would not likely result in residents having water 24 hours a day, she noted they would have daily access to clean water.
“The contract has been signed,” she said. “We will be designing and building a series of infrastructure. The first thing will be, instead of using the three different sources that are currently supplying the community, there will be a catchment, an intake in the Tornesse River. This has been chosen because of many studies that identified this river as being of good quality. The quality of the water is very good, and also the quantity is sufficient to provide for the community. From that intake it will go into a pipeline, by way of gravity, to a water treatment plant in the Thomazo area. It’s in a parcel that is close to the main road. In that plant there will be several treatment steps to take out all this mud from the water.”
From there the water will be pumped to various tanks already in place including those in Thomazo, Morne Panache, Aux Lyon, Derniere Riviere, and Gadette.
The Project Manager explained why the project would be in two phases: “Phase One can only cover the urgent needs of the community, but in order to provide water on a sustainable basis for the long-term, there needs to be more infrastructure built; there needs to be more water capacity in the water treatment plant; and there needs to be a replacement of pipelines and tanks, and new pumping stations. That will happen in Phase Two. Another particularity is that the Aux Leon community will be supplied by this infrastructure in Phase Two . . . Aux Leon was considered, I know it’s not the best, but it has the best water source, so it’s going to be supplied only in Phase Two.”
The first phase of the water supply project is expected to be completed in one year. The first phase does not have to be completed before the start of the second.
“Phase Two is today almost confirmed because the Government of Saint Lucia requested a loan from the Caribbean Development Bank to execute Phase Two of the project, which the Caribbean Development Bank has already approved,” the Project Manager revealed. “Now it’s just a matter of finalizing that agreement. We cannot tell you today if or when it is going to happen, but it is in good condition to happen soon.”
Perez added: “We have identified potential lands where the infrastructure will be built. If a pumping station needs to be built in Aux Leon, we have identified in which area that could be installed. We have been asking the owners of these lands for consent to access. If there needs to be construction, an acquisition process will be put in place by the government to acquire any necessary lands.”
Parliamentary representative for Dennery North, Shawn Edward, acknowledged there was need to thank the government of Mexico for coming forward and lending its support. “Sometimes things are so rough with so many countries all over the world that they cannot give you anything by way of a grant,” he said. “Here you have Mexico, a country that has been very loyal to the government of Saint Lucia, and they came without hesitation. We really have to say thank you to the ambassador and others who made it happen for us.”