WATER WOES AT LINDEN
Gwen Evelyn The Guyana Chronicle July 1999
LINDENERS have resorted to boiling, buying and fetching water as they try their best to avoid the faeces-contaminated liquid flowing through their taps.
They seem to think that the problem will end with the arrival of alum. But thousands at Linden will have to continue grappling with this appalling situation until Linmine - which is responsible for providing potable water - services the chlorinators at West Watooka and Wismar. The chlorinators inject chlorine, a key purifying agent, into the water.
The message is therefore clear to Lindeners.
Do not drink any of the water coming through the taps until the blocked chlorinators are serviced.
A Linmine official said that it is not practical to put the usual quantity of chlorine into the water since the blocked chlorinators would require more than the normal amount and lead to wastage.
"It makes no sense" the official said.
But why are the chlorinators not being serviced? The official supposes that it is a time consuming exercise. Is it a costly one? No, he says.
Money would only be necessary in those instances where spare parts are to be brought in from abroad.
A source in the Guyana water sector was contacted and he said that chlorinators are dangerous to interfere with and any slight defects in one of them should be fixed immediately. Chlorine is extremely costly and Linmine probably did not want to waste theirs, he speculated.
Tests done by the Eureka Laboratory in Georgetown on a sample of the Linden water, showed that the water contains a high degree of fecal coliforms which are organisms found in stool. The presence of this bacteria means contamination by faeces.
Checks made by this newspaper at Linden found that Linmine does not have a sewerage system and all the septic tanks ultimately lead to the Demerara River from where from which most of the town gets its water supply. Some areas use only pit latrines which overflow during the rainy season into drains that lead to the river.
Dozens of vendors use the Linden market toilet and the waste also drains into the river. So does the waste of shack dwellers along the river.
Fifty-year old pipes do not help the situation since contaminated water can seep into any broken line, sources said.
Many misguided Lindeners however believe that with the arrival of alum, the situation will end when their water resumes the clearish colour they are accustomed to.
There was a shortage of alum for over one month, causing the Linden water to acquire a brown colour similar to that of `swank'. Residents said that it was also smelly at one time. It however turned out that this was the most minor part of the problem.
Regarding the alum, Linmine's Chief Executive Office, Mr. Horace James yesterday said that the shortage occurred when the ship bringing alum to treat the water, had to return to Trinidad due to the massive Guyana Public Servants Union strike which ended about 60 days after it had begun last month.
But James said that 20 tonnes of alum arrived on Thursday and an additional 25 tonnes is expected today. He expects the water colour to change by today.
James added that chemical shortages are periodical and occur when Linmine does not have the money to buy any.
"It happens from time to time" James said, adding that Linmine cannot afford to continue supplying the water to the bauxite town.
He said it costs Linmine $112M annually to provide the service.
Government provides a $40M subvention. And so far this year, Linmine has spent $50M on water and has not received its allocation. It is however expected next week, James said.
The CEO said Linmine wants the water provision responsibility transferred to the Government since Linmine can ill-afford to maintain it. He went on to note that water is a free service at Linden so there is no cost recovery.
Areas which will always be affected by the chlorine and alum situation unless something is done are those at McKenzie, Wismar and West Watooka; villages in these areas get their water through stations pumping from the river. The Wisroc area sources its water from a creek and Amelia's Ward gets its own from a well.
There have been reports of increased diarrhoea cases, particularly among children and Linmine has been advising the town residents to boil their drinking water. Teachers also urged students not to use water from the school's standpipes. They should walk with their water from home instead.
Headmistress at Regma Primary School, Ms. Loraine Butcher said that she tells her students this every Monday morning at the weekly assembly. Students only use the stand pipe in the yard to wash their hands.
Some teachers at the school said that a few of their class students have been staying home after diarrhoea bouts.
Six little boys we found playing in the school's compound during their snack break were asked whether they use the school's stand pipe to drink water.
No, they said. Mommy boils some for them to take to school. Five said that they do not use the pipe. But one said that he drinks from it sometimes.
"Not everyday though" he added quickly, as though that would make it better.
A Town Council source said that five children from the age of one died from gastro last month.
Regional Health Officer at Linden, Ms. Venus Smartt however denied this. Smartt said that during the rainy season, there is normally an increase in diarrhoea cases among children. While this is a pattern, Smartt said that the recent cases are "an increase over the normal pattern".
There are more children visiting the mining town's hospital for treatment; they are being given Oral Rehydration Salt (ORS) and sent home, Smartt said, assuring that there is an adequate supply of ORS for anyone with a diarrhoea attack.
Some other residents were also interviewed about the problem and all those we spoke with agreed that the situation is bad.
"The water is terrible" one woman said. She was going to buy a bottle of water for drinking purposes. The woman said that her children would normally fetch from Amelia's Ward which is not affected. However, they are tired of doing that, she said, adding that she is reluctant to even bathe with it.
An old woman we found shopping said that she boils the water for about 10 minutes and adds a bit of bleach also. She, however cannot afford to do it on her normal stove which uses electricity. Instead, she has to boil the water on a coal fire.
"An' ah sick, you know" she added.
Another resident added that she is disappointed with the water situation. She is afraid to let her son bathe with it and wonders if it is responsible for the sores that erupted on his skin.
The Linden Salvation Council is concerned about the problem and is seeking the intervention of foreign missions to solve it.
"We have been suffering for years with this water problem. This is not the first time this has happened" Mr. Philip Bynoe who is on the Council said.
Linmine has no will nor capacity to continue to supply water, Bynoe said. He sympathises with Linmine, adding that it is important that the Guyana Water Authority takes over the water supply system.
"The government needs to intervene immediately. You are talking about giving people water that has fecal matter in it" Bynoe said.
Bynoe believes that the solutions are simple. Condemn the old water purification plants; expand the ground reservoir at Wisroc and establish two huge overhead tanks at Wismar. Water could then be pumped from the ground reservoir and distributed to all the other areas.
"That is the solution. That will only have an initial capital cost" he said, adding that it will be cheaper to operate.