Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 7 October 2015

We need answers over water fiasco

Published 30/12/2010

An outsider reading reports on the water crisis in Northern Ireland would be forgiven for thinking that it was a developing country. People are having to queue for drinking water like the inhabitants of a country devastated by drought or disaster. Tempers have boiled over during the queues leading to fights, like scenes experienced in areas of real need.

The Red Cross, the aid agency which works in the world's disaster areas, is active here. And, most embarrassingly of all, Scotland, a country which suffered even more extreme weather conditions than here, is sending us 160,000 litres of bottled water.

There are genuine public health concerns as thousands of people are left without water to flush toilets or provide clean drinking water for infants. The water being distributed at various locations throughout the province has to be boiled before being consumed. Little wonder that Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness says he feels let down by Northern Ireland Water, the agency set up to manage the province's water and sewage networks.

Let down is a mild expression. Thousands of citizens feel betrayed. They have been treated shamefully in terms of communication with emergency hotlines being constantly jammed or unanswered. NI Water's website has - at best - been very difficult to access. Yes, the problems with burst mains has been unprecedented, but what else could be expected after unprecedented weather conditions?

While the emphasis now must be on getting the water distribution system up and running properly again as soon as possible - and the workers on the ground deserve immense credit for their efforts - there should be a comprehensive investigation into what went wrong and with whom the fault lies.

This is one bureaucratic bungle that cannot be swept under the carpet.

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