Canadian government demands answers about reverse osmosis project
As Barbados’ water woes continue to mount, a Canadian government official is demanding to know if Government has abandoned plans for the construction of a $40 million reverse osmosis project to improve the island’s dwindling supply of potable water.
Marc Parisien, head of the commercial section at the Canadian High Commission in Bridgetown, said the plant was earmarked to be built at the Belle pumping station with loan financing from Canadian agencies.
The solution was first examined by the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) in 2008 with the objective of ensuring dilution and reduction of contaminants in local water. At a 2012 media conference, officials reported that in some areas of the island, nitrate levels were approaching the threshold of ten milligrammes per litre set by the World Health Organization (WHO).
At the time, Minister of Water Resources Management Dr David Estwick had expressed concern about the levels of contaminants that threatened the island’s water supply as he announced Government’s intention to construct the facility.
Taking part in yesterday’s Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) business luncheon at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, Parisien expressed disappointment that the project had not yet started. He also warned that the funding, which was being provided at a “very low” interest rate, would not be available forever.
“There is issue with climate change now; there is less rain in general, but basically we have been discussing for a long time about the Belle reverse osmosis project with Barbados and this is a $40 million project,” Parisien disclosed, addiing that only about 30 per cent of the island’s water was drinkable.
“But the level of pollution is rising rapidly as you are aware. Now it is still under what you call the World Health Organization standards, but if it reaches that standard . . . it means that suddenly 30 per cent of people in Barbados wouldn’t have water to drink. This could be a real disaster and this could be also [a disaster] for the tourism sector, and all that,” Parisien added.
“So we have put together a package to help Barbados actually to do the project. Basically, we sent a letter even to Prime Minister [Freundel] Stuart, I think to Minister Estwick also and it was approved by Parliament to our knowledge, but when it goes to the Ministry of Finance for the funding to do the project, it gets stuck.
“The issue is that we have a package together now. We work with Canadian Commercial Corporation, we work with Export Development Canada and we have a very, very low interest rate average for Barbados to do that now, but we cannot hold this package forever because otherwise they may want to go to other islands with these types of projects also,” he cautioned.
Directing his question to Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler, Parisien said while he understood Government was currently struggling with its fiscal and debt challenges, he wanted to know if the project was still important for the country, “because we just feel like if it is not done, we would like to know why”.
“Certainly the pollution level is too high and the people [in Canada] are asking what is the Barbados Government doing about it,” he said. “So we just want to know what is the position of Government and is it still important for the Government? . . . . But we expect that this would be approved and we can start the project as soon as possible, so you don’t get a surprise in six months, a year or two with this big issue in Barbados.”
Sinckler opted, however, not to respond to the matter.
“Unfortunately, I am incapable of responding to that question in this forum. I actually think it is not the type of question you ought to have asked in this forum and therefore I am not going to [respond],” he said.
“I have a very perfect response to what you are saying but it is not for this occasion and therefore I am going to do, unlike our compatriots on the West Indies team, I am going to let that ball pass outside the off stump and go to the wicket keeper,” he stressed.