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Water shortage pushes Northern Ireland to brink of health crisis

Fears are growing that Northern Ireland's water shortage will lead to a public health emergency.



Tens of thousands of homes and businesses are still without supplies as engineers struggle to plug burst pipes. Some families have not had fresh running water for eight days.

Scotland has offered to supply bottled water in a bid to ease the emergency.

Northern Ireland Water (NIW), the company at the centre of the crisis, said it was unable to say when supplies would be fully restored.

Northern Ireland Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy is having talks with officials later today to consider ongoing operations and the sort of swift action needed to deal with the situation.

More bottled water was due to be distributed in various parts of Belfast, one of the areas hardest hit. Arrangements were also being made to have tankers strategically placed across the province to help families, many of whom have been unable to use toilet facilities since before Christmas.

Leisure centres in the city as well as others in Coleraine, Co Londonderry, Antrim, Cookstown, Co Tyrone, and Newry, Co Down, were among those which opened to provide washing and showering facilities.

NIW today faced more widespread public anger over the company's lack of contingency plans and its abysmal failure to provide adequate and up-to-date information.

But with the onset of a winter vomiting bug, some doctors warned the crisis could quickly develop into a major health issue, especially among the elderly.

Dr Peter Maguire, a GP in Newry, said: "This is really now a public health emergency.

"Northern Ireland Water has been shambolic in their response.

"People with young families have not been able to flush toilets and wash themselves, never mind get access to drinking water.

"It's just not good enough. What's happening is really not acceptable."

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