By Hon Shawn K Richards, Deputy Prime Minister & Minister of Public Utilities et al
Why World Water Day?
World Water Day is held annually on March 22nd as a means of focusing attention on the importance of freshwater and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. The first World Water Day was commemorated on March 22nd, 1993 as a result of a declaration by the United Nations General Assembly. The theme for this year is “Valuing Water”. Which simply means each of us asking ourselves: “What does WATER mean to me?”
Yes, we all are aware of what water means to us; how important and essential it is for our daily survival. In fact, at the St. Kitts Water Services Department, our motto is: “Water is Life-Every Drop Counts.”
Week of Activities:
Every year the WSD organizes a Week of Activities to coincide with World Water Day. This year, mindful that we are still in the midst of the Covid-19 Pandemic, we have scaled down our activities. However, given the importance of keeping us all aware of our Water situation, we have decided to still have a few activities to celebrate World Water Day. Hence, tomorrow Sunday, March 21st, the staff of the Water Services Dept and the Ministry will be worshipping at the Emmanuel Methodist Church in Sandy Point.
On Monday and Tuesday, we invite you to visit us at our Main Office at Needsmust where we would have a display showcasing some of our behind-the-scenes operations.
On Wednesday we will be at Independence Square where we will again be displaying the talent of our staff and providing useful information on how you can conserve water. We will also be re-launching our Updated Website (www.water.gov.kn) and Facebook Page (St. Kitts Water Services Department) while giving you the opportunity to update your information in our customer database so that you can receive your bills electronically. We expect to also provide you within a few weeks with the option of online bill payment via our website.
Friday is our Customer Appreciation Day; we will have tokens of appreciation for persons who visit us to settle their bills.
The Theme – Valuing water:
Back to the theme for this year: “Valuing Water.” What does water mean to me? The value of water is about much more than its price – water has enormous and complex value for our households, food, culture, health, education, economics, and the integrity of our natural environment. If we overlook any of these values, we risk mismanaging this finite, irreplaceable resource. Sustainable Development Goal #6 (SDG 6) is to ensure water and sanitation for all by 2030. Without a comprehensive understanding of water’s true, multidimensional value, we will be unable to safeguard this critical resource for the benefit of everyone.
Valuing Water, therefore, means cooperation between the various segments of our society and stakeholders. Let us look at some of the ways in which we use water with the understanding that because it is a finite resource, there will always be competition sometimes even conflict. Water is used in the manufacturing sector for example by concrete making companies, beverage bottling companies, and water bottling companies to name a few.
The Tourism sector is also a major user of our water, whether it is the hotels, cruise ships, or eco-tourism. Business institutions such as colleges, schools, hospitals, etc. all are very dependent on water for mainly sanitation and hygiene. In our households of course in St. Kitts, we take it for granted that anyone can get a connection to the water distribution system and have a 24-7 supply of water. This is not the case in many parts of the world. Another key segment of our society that has a stake in the use of our water resources is of course Agriculture. As a small island developing state, the government of St. Kitts and Nevis understands the importance of reducing our dependence on imported food. We a cognizant of the need to make water available for agriculture so that our farmers are able to increase their output. In this regard, over the past ten (10) years we have seen more farmers being able to obtain a water supply from our distribution network.
Water might mean different things to these various users, but one thing is common; they will all agree that it is invaluable. So, whether you are a farmer, a household user, a business, or a commercial user, on the occasion of World Water Day 2021 and indeed every day, I implore you to take this year’s theme to heart and let us start “valuing water.”
In St. Kitts-Nevis, it is very important for us to always remember that the ultimate source of our potable water is from rainfall. As the rain falls onto the land, some of it is evaporated or used by plants, some of it runs off the land into the sea and some of it infiltrates into the ground and is stored in groundwater aquifers. The growing threat of climate change means that rainfall patterns are changing and that sea levels are rising. This is a serious threat. We must invest in adaptation to ensure that our water system is resilient enough to cope with the threat. In St. Kitts, we are blessed with a precious resource that must be cared for to ensure its sustainability for future generations. Please be aware that this resource is not infinite, it requires careful and integrated management to ensure it is available for all now and into the future.
It is likewise very important for every water user to recognize that we are all interconnected by water; the responsibility for its care is shared by all members of society. The government’s responsibility is to ensure accessibility, equity, and the productive use of water for development and progress. The manifestation of such responsibility is the development of infrastructure to distribute water to various consumers and sectors. Water infrastructure is fundamental to the development of our nation. As such, the government has taken strides over the past years to move us from a small system that relied solely on gravity-fed surface water to a more complex system that relies on a combination of groundwater and surface water; a network of pumps and storage tanks linked by hundreds of kilometers of pipeline. Although we take for granted the availability of water at our taps 24 hours per day, this is a privilege that we have earned by investing in infrastructure and human capital to ensure the proper management of the water resources over the years. These kinds of investments cannot be short-term in nature but must be sustained in order to serve as a foundation for other sectors of the economy to grow on.
The government only in December last year signed a contract for over six (6) million dollars with BEAD LLC to undertake Well Drilling/Remediation in the Cayon and Basseterre Areas. We are confident that a permanent solution to the water shortage which the good people of Cayon have endured over the years would soon be a thing of the past.
A Shared Responsibility:
The government through the Water Services Department will continue to ensure that all reasonable needs of water customers are met in a timely and efficient manner through the effective management of our water resources. However, as was previously mentioned, the responsibility for the effective management of our water resources does not end with the Water Department – water is unique in that all persons in society participate in its management. We all have a role to play in water management as private citizens of this Federation. Personal responsibility is part of our “shared” responsibility; I urge you to become actively involved. Do not use water wastefully; implement water conservation practices in your household, repair leaky taps and toilets, report incidents of abuse or misuse of water, report any visible leaks from pipelines or standpipes, catch rainwater to irrigate your gardens or wash your cars, pay attention to your waste disposal practices, and respect signage and rules established by the Water Services Department.
Earlier I noted that valuing water is not just about the price we pay for water; but ultimately, one of the simplest ways we demonstrate that we value something is by the price we are willing to pay for it. The last time water rates were increased in St. Kitts was 2001, some twenty years ago. Our water rates are amongst the lowest anywhere. The United Nations recommends that a water bill should not be more than 3% of household income. If a low-income family has an income of $1,600.00, 3% of income is $48.00/month. A family of five (5) using water efficiently should not be using more than $48.00/month.
There are far too many persons and businesses in St. Kitts who are not demonstrating that they value water by paying their water bills monthly. I take this opportunity to remind you that if you are not tracking your water usage and paying your bills then you could be responsible for wasting one of our most precious resources and thus putting the future sustainability of our water resources at risk.
In closing, when you open your tap this evening, think about where the water came from and the work it took to get it to you and your family. Many people worldwide are not as fortunate as we are here in this Federation. Reflect on the theme for this year’s World Water Day: “Valuing Water.” Ask yourself, what does water mean to me? What would it mean to me if tomorrow I do not have water? What can I do to help ensure that I have water tomorrow? Join hands and heart with us at the Ministry of Public Infrastructure and the Water Services Department in particular during this week as we partner in ensuring that we all value water for its future sustainability.
Happy World Water Day. I thank you for your kind attention. Good evening.
Photo: Hon Shawn K Richards