‘Water, Water, Everywhere, But Not A Drop To Drink’  

By Dr B Foogooa

Deficient Rainfall. For the last two years, there has been a pronounced scarcity of rainfall. As a result, our reservoirs are alarmingly drying up.  

 People, mainly politicians, are lamely laying the blame at the doorstep of those in power. Likewise the Thais could have as well blamed their government for the unprecedented recent floods in Thailand.

Actually, we are all to be blamed; for global warming and climate change are the doings of ‘modern’ Man. Personally I attribute it mainly to unchecked population growth and the whole world being involved in the rat race of economic growth. 

Nevertheless our successive governments should also, to some extent, be held responsible for this situation. Because collective measures, long overdue, have not been timely taken. 

I am told many at the Central Water Authority (CWA) have time and again drawn the attention of policy makers to the deterioration of the century-old water pipes island-wise. Most unfortunately the answer has been, more often: “No money” or what not.  

Bore Holes (BH). Keerpal Jawaheer, ex-manager of the CWA, informs me, inter alia, that the drought of 1983 was much more severe: two reservoirs had then completely run dry. Luckily Mare-aux-Vacoas was not one of them. Mr Jawaheer, who was the pioneer of BH, urgently resorted to drilling BH round the island. And this saved the population from calamitous water shortages. 

At the present juncture BH can be drilled near the Public Services Commission premises, at La Marie from where the stream at Sadally flows as well as at Riviere Seche, Mangalkhan and Tagore Lane, St Paul. 

The relevant authority at the CWA knows better where else BH can be drilled. KJ further intimated that drilling of some BH may cost roughly Rs.1.5-2m; not much indeed. 

Other Sources of Water. The East and South-East can resort to water from Diamamouve at Sans-Soucis and Le Val. Bassin Blanc can partly supply the South-West, if the worse comes to the worse. 

Pending the construction of Bagatelle and Chamarel dams, other sites can be tapped for the drilling of BH. 

For 5 Years I did not open my Tap. A couple of months before the fateful year 1982, the year of 60-0 at the general elections, I moved house, leaving Quatre Bornes for Curepipe. 

At the backyard, there is a 1-metre cemented strip between our previous house and that of our neighbour. The compound is slightly a sort of a slope so that during rainfall one can see water going down like a stream. At the end of the slope I had the ground dug and we made a 1-cubic metre tiles covered reservoir. Most of the rainwater at the backyard collects in it. 

Of course it was covered by a nylon net, held firmly by wooden frames to avoid the proliferation of mosquitoes and at the same time to prevent kids from falling into the reservoir. 

During the time we stayed there, we almost never opened the tap to (1) water the flowers (2) bathe our dogs (3) wash the car and (4) to wash the alleys. 

Similarly, most of us can collect rainwater coming down the rain pipes. Even used water from the washing machine can be channeled towards grass, fruit trees or flowers using a modified drain pipe. Obviously we are not going to permanently water our plants with soap water.

Water after washing vegetables and fruits can be used to flush the toilet. All these are palliative measures. We just need some imagination and adaptation. 

Desalination Plant. For God’s sake, we should not rush to put up a desalination plant mainly in Mauritius. If we try to tap other sources, we can still make do without it. In the first place it is very costly. And secondly it can end up being another white elephant. For such elephants we have a host of them round the island. In Rodrigues a desalination plant is a must and the sooner it is put up the better. 

Cost of Domestic Water. Scrutinizing the CWA bill I noticed that we pay Rs.4.50 per cubic metre up for the first 10 cubic meters of water. Therefore, if a household uses up to 10 cubic metres of water a month, that is 10k litres, it pays Rs.45. 

According to available data the average household in a few countries more or less like Mauritius pays the following per month. 

Sri Lanka Rs.75 

Fiji Rs. 150

India Rs.75

Singapore Rs.450

However we have to consider the different specificities of the above-mentioned countries. Sri Lanka and Fiji should be having abundant rainfall and water supply. The cost of living there is also lower than that of Mauritius. Singapore on the other hand imports water from Malaysia and its cost of living is much higher. 

Cost of Water of our Private sector. This is where the shoe pinches: 1 litre of bottled water is roughly Rs.16. One bottle or a litre of bottled water at the 5-star hotel is at Rs.140! 

So the bottled water at the shop is 400 times more expensive than the water that runs from our tap, in the comfort of our bathroom and the price of bottled water at our 5-star hotels is, please hold your breath, about 3,500 times higher than the CWA litre of water!

Is there any voice heard or any eyebrow raised at this? None! But year in year out we demand increase in salary, in fringe benefits, this grant and that grant without ever improving our performance.

There is no country in the world where tariffs or prices of commodities remain unchanged. We have been provided with a couple of hands: one to take and the other to give. Give and take is a natural practice.

This is not meant to say that the CWA must be complacently happy with the situation. Remedial measures have to be taken, and the sooner the better. For the general good of the population. 

* Published in print edition on 16 December 2011

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