BRIDGETOWN, Barbados — The unthinkable has happened to one of the Caribbean’s most popular destinations — and it has struck at the height of tourist season. 2018 began with a sewage leak — which the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) called a “crisis” — seeping across parts of the island’s popular south coast.
The incident has already caused a slew of problems in the country: residents have had to move to more hospitable areas, many south coast-based businesses have closed, visitors to the island have complained about contracting gastroenteritis, and the tourist-friendly destination has endured unfavourable reviews on travel websites.
Experts from neighbouring Trinidad and Tobago are assisting the BWA in their efforts to solve the problem; however, Patricia Inniss, head of the BWA’s wastewater division, was quite clear that “every tourist, business person, householder” has to play a part in finding a solution.
She added, “We are appealing seriously to all — not only residents but larger commercial houses, hotels, large guest houses — we are not going to identify anyone specifically at this point because we don’t know exactly who are the main contributors.”
The current incident calls to mind past blockages that were caused by inappropriate debris getting into sewer lines, causing damage to sewage pumps and filtering equipment. Inniss has appealed to Barbadians who do not properly dispose of waste and offered her organisation’s help in educating them.
But action didn’t come fast enough for some countries. In short order, Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom put out travel advisories warning their citizens about the risks of travel to Barbados.
The whole mess has been made worse by the fact that some experts saw it coming. In January 2017, anonymous BWA officials told Barbados Today that the country’s waste system was on the verge of collapse. These same BWA officials also confirmed allegations by Mia Mottley, the country’s opposition leader, that the government had turned down offers to finance the rehabilitation of faulty diffusers and the construction of a proper sewage system for the west coast.
With regard to the south coast, which is the location of the current effluent leak, the source said, “How can you be building hotels on the south coast and in Bridgetown [the capital] when the entire Bridgetown and south coast sewage plants are outdated and dilapidated? These plants need urgent attention.”
This lack of attention has turned the controversy into a political football, with Mottley promising that her government will solve the sewage crisis should it win this year’s upcoming general elections and Minister of Commerce, Industry and Small Business Development Donville Inniss defending his government as the poop literally hit the fan — or at least the pavement. He also denied that the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) government knew about the problem and ignored it.
Barbadians did not mince words when it came to discussing the issue online. In a post titled, A Shitty South Coast, the popular Barbados Underground blog lamented the current situation:
“The South Coast of Barbados… has been known at home and abroad as the place to wine, dine and party by locals and tourists alike. Regrettably in the last year the South Coast has been making the news because of sewage overflowing onto public spaces; roadways, residential and business premises.”
The reality is that the sewage system in Barbados has been poorly maintained through the years and the hodgepodge approach of the BWA has been significantly affected by a lack of funds and pertinent expertise.
The site also posted videos showing the sewage leak and expressed exasperation with the government’s public relations spin:
“Many of us were bemused by the decision of ministers of government Richard Sealy and John Boyce to bathe in the shitty waters of the South Coast in order to convince a suspicious public that all was well.
“We await PR stunt number 2!”
While sewage continued to flow along parts of Barbados’ south coast, Facebook users expressed their frustration over the government’s mismanagement of the situation:
“I refuse to eat or even partake in any event on that side of the island this is a downright national shame the government of Barbados should take full responsibility for this national disaster! And this is the perfect example of how they have managed the affairs of Barbadians!”
Some netizens thought the public health threat was serious enough to be called a national security issue and many more were concerned about the impact of the leak on the country’s tourism sector — a sector which makes up a large majority of Barbados’ gross domestic product (GDP).
Others noted that there was “still not much substance [being] shared [with] the public”, despite the fact that they are the ones most adversely affected.
This article written by Janine Mendes-Franco originally appeared on Global Voices on January 22, 2018