Why World Water Day?
Fellow citizens, I am honoured to address you on the occasion of the celebration of World Water Day 2023. The United Nations General Assembly in 1993 decided that the 22nd of March each year shall be set aside as World Water Day. On this day, we all should pause to reflect and focus our attention on the importance of freshwater and advocate for the sustainable management of our freshwater resources.
Each year a different theme is chosen; this year the theme is “Accelerating Change.” To accelerate is to increase the rate of change. So, not only should we be making changes in relation to how we govern water, but we need to step up our pace!
Do you know that 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered with water? Of all the water on Earth 97% is salt water, 2% is in the form of ice caps, glaciers or in the atmosphere. Only 1% can be used for drinking or potable water. Our survival as humans depends to a large extent on how we utilize this 1%, especially in light of climate change. In some parts of the world, millions of people do not have access to safe drinking water due to drought.
Here in St. Kitts-Nevis, this must be a time of reckoning for us. For the past few decades, our local water experts have been sending out the message, but few of us have been taking heed. The message is simple for all of us to understand. We live on a small island of 68 square miles; all of our freshwater comes from the rain that falls on the island. It does not rain every day and sometimes it goes for weeks without rain, but we expect to use water every day. If we do not use the little water we have conservatively; we will run out.
Let me pause here to acknowledge and to say thank you to the Team at the Water Services Department (including past workers) for their Herculean effort and sacrifice in going out every day to ensure that when you open your taps, there is water.
Remember that the theme for this year’s World Water Day is “Accelerating Change;” indeed the only thing constant in life is change. Today all we hear about is ‘Climate Change.’ Is climate change real and is it a concern for us here in St. Kitts-Nevis? Again, the experts at the Water Services Department has indicated that over the past ten (10) years we have seen about an 18% decrease in the average annual rainfall. This is serious. While we cannot predict the future, we have to be prepared for various scenarios including, longer dry periods and shorter, more intense wet seasons.
The bottom line is that as the climate changes, our availability of freshwater will change and hence we have to adapt. The Government of St. Kitts and Nevis is taking our responsibility of providing a reliable supply of water seriously. This means that we have to change how we ‘have been doing water in the past.’
The growing threat of climate change means that rainfall patterns are changing and that sea levels are rising. Even though climatic changes are slow, they are nonetheless a real and serious threat. Our response to this threat must begin with the necessary investments to allow us to carefully monitor such climatic and environmental parameters.
We are going to invest over $200 million over the next 5 to 10 years to build a resilient and sustainable water infrastructure. Water is too important for us to get it wrong. As I often say, because of our small size, it is easier for us to transform our sectors than other larger countries.
Some of the investments in our Water Infrastructure will include of course:
Drilling of additional wells
Investment in Desalinated Water
Replacement and upgrading of Pipelines
Construction of New and expansion of existing storage reservoirs
The introduction of modern technology to improve efficiency and to optimize the use of our resources.
Of course, we will also invest in our people and ensure that the institutional capacity and structure of the Water Services Department is also modernized.
A Shared Responsibility:
The transformation of our water sector and ensuring the sustainability of our water resources is not just up to the government; the reliability of your water supply also depends on how you use it. There are still hundreds of consumers who have leaks and refuse to address them. Most times these leaks are due to faulty toilets.
As we embark on augmenting our water supplies with desalination which is much more expensive than surface and groundwater, we cannot afford this level of wastage. Our message of conservation and the economical use of water becomes more urgent. In St. Kitts only about 55% of the water which we produce becomes revenue. This is unacceptable. The Water Services Department will be focusing on ensuring that every connection to the water distribution system is metered and that all customers are paying their bills. We will always make provisions for those who have special socio-economic challenges.
The fact that the last time our water rates were increased was over 22 years ago, means that our rates must be affordable; the government, therefore, expects every customer to willingly pay for the service so that we can continue to invest in the maintenance and improvement of the service. I want to stress however that as we build out a more resilient water infrastructure the Government will do what it must to encourage conservation and strongly and boldly discourage wastage.
Week of Activities:
Every year the Water Services Department uses the occasion of World Water Day to heighten the public’s awareness of the issues affecting the sector and to reach out to all of our stakeholders. Allow me to mention some of the Activities that we have put together this year and invite you to join us in celebrating Water:
Tomorrow Sunday, March 19th, staff of the Water Services Department will fellowship at the Rivers of Living Water Christian Centre.
On Monday and Tuesday, we would have our Open Day at the La Guerite Water Treatment Plant; the general public is invited to come and learn about how your water gets to your tap and also, what you can do to help conserve it.
Wednesday, March 22nd is World Water Day and we would be showing our appreciation to you our customers. Visitors to our offices would receive tokens, and we hope that you would be paying your bill in full!
Of course, on that day we also have our regular program “The Water Line” on ZIZ Radio from 10:30 to 11:00 am.
Other activities for the week include competitions among schools, a staff retreat and a raffle.
In closing, let me take this opportunity to again thank the staff of the Water Services Department who every day work hard to ensure that we have water when we open our taps.
Several of these workers get out of their beds at 4 in the morning while most of us are still enjoying the comfort of our beds. We know that there is still room for improvement, and let me assure you that we are committed to accelerating change toward making our water sector in St. Kitts the envy of the region.
It, therefore, gives me great pleasure as the Minister with responsibility for Water Services to declare open Water Week and to wish you a happy World Water Day on Wednesday, March 22nd.
May God continue to bless us with an abundance of clean freshwater in our beloved Federation.