Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Co-operation vital in time of crisis

It has taken the extreme weather conditions of the past month to demonstrate vividly just how fragile Northern Ireland's water distribution system is.

Not only are there the expected bursts in household pipes and even mains, but, startlingly, reservoirs are running dry because the infrastructure has been overwhelmed. The years of neglect of the water system is now coming home to roost.

While there has to be some sympathy for NI Water on the scale of the problems it faces - no one can remember a time when the system was under such strain and so many homes were affected by disruption of supplies outside of householders' control - that sympathy is eroded somewhat by the inability of the agency to communicate effectively with customers.

Dedicated telephone lines ring out unanswered, even one set up for MLAs to register complaints. The company's website either takes an eternity to load or is unavailable.

The elderly and vulnerable feel alone and helpless because of their inability to contact the agency. At a time when a staple service is under threat, it is vital that clear lines of communication are established and maintained so people can understand what is happening, not just to them but on a province-wide scale.

Belfast City Council is to be congratulated for its efforts to distribute drinking water and make leisure centres available for those in need if required.

However, there is a whiff of panic in the air with NI Water desperately trying to respond to each fresh drama, and political parties sniping at each other.

Rather than hurling empty accusations, this is a time for the entire power-sharing Executive to show cohesion and leadership to steer the province through an unprecedented crisis. With an important part of the fabric of society under severe pressure, it is vital that everyone plays a constructive role in meeting the challenges.

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