Barbados sewage ‘crisis’ causes a flood of problems

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An aerial view of the Barbados south coast, the area that has been affected by a massive sewage leak. Photo by Rachel Clarke, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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

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15 COMMENTS

  1. Just returned from the south coast…it’s teeming with UK and some Canadian visitors. Never saw any sewage or signs of sewage. Barbados is beautiful and should not have it’s reputation sullied this way!!

    • Hi Lori… we are visiting from Scotland and I can assure you we have had to drive over the sewage 4 times and it is wholly unacceptable. I can only assume you are local to Barbados and trying to dampen the situation however the sewage flow was so deep yesterday morning our taxi drove over an obvious obstruction below the sewage level and damaged the underside of his vehicle. So, if the awful smell wasn’t bad enough, we had serious concerns that his van might have stalled in the middle of it.

      My wife has since said we should have heeded the travel warning issued by the U.K. government. This is our second trip to Barbados and we will certainly not be back until it is well and truly fixed.

      Sad if you to say there is nothing to it…

  2. Yesterday,

    Your reply nonsensical.
    Do you mean to say that “It’s just the coral reefs that are affected by the sewage leaks and floating turds and not the canal between The Magic Isle and The Accra Hotel nor the region near Cave Sheppard & The Esso Station where waves of raw sewage have flowed?

    Do you mean to say that there is no raw sewage appearing above terra ferma on the south side of the island; just out to sea on coral reefs where the Parrot Fish can consume it?

    Is that what you meant to say?

    I’m just curious.

    Because that’s not what I’ve seen nor smelt.

  3. Yesterday, please answer Walter. As a tourist that loves to visit Barbados, I am wondering if this is just politics or a true crisis. I am assuming that this is real and people will get sick, water quality will suffer and wild life will be affected. C’mon Barbados fix your self. I believe outside help is needed but I don’t think Trinidad is the answer. How about Canada or the UK?

  4. It’s real. I am here now. Manhole covers on the south side bubbling up and overflowing, and the canal by Magic Isle flowing sewage into the sea. Lots of foul smelling spots along the south coast.

  5. As a Canadian who has vacationed in Barbados for the past 10 years, I can confirm the problem is now a crisis. Sewers were overflowing, and the stench was horrendous some days. On the last day of my 10 day vacation, I woke up to bad stomach pains that took me almost two weeks to recover. I’m not sure where all that sewage is going, but I heard rumours that its running into the ocean, which makes me wonder if that’s how I contacted an illness. I’m seriously debating if i’m going back to Barbados next year. I hope the seage does not contaminate the water supply or Barbados tourism will die

  6. James G,
    I’ve been visiting Barbados since 1978,the south coast particularly at Christchurch is a mess with sewerage, some business have closed, Tappers Restaurant has sewerage bubbling from a manhole just meters away from its front door, my friends ate there last week and were ill for several days. Worthing Court Hotel where Mr Impact entertains, we were there last Tuesday and their courtyard just meters away from the Restaurant and where Mr Impact performs was roped off, there was a least two foot of raw sewerage, I was totally mesmerised to see people still eating!!!!!!!!
    Government appears to have its head in the sand, or where the sewerage first came from!!!!!!!! many tourists that I’ve spoken to are not coming back, very very sad, since I retired I spend two months here every year. I now feel it’s time to look for another destination. Sad sad sad.
    Having to drive or walk by this mess is horrible and the smell is just unbelievable.
    Government wake up and sort this mess for your people.

  7. We can confirm the above description having just returned from 12 days at Margate Gardens which is adjacent to some of the worst sewage flooding the road, pooling and flowing off to the sea. 3 of our group of 4 got sick , one requiring medical attention while in Barbados and now seeing our own physician here in Canada. This is not “fake news” !

  8. We decided not to travel to Barbados this spring for the first time,, annually for 20 years . How bad is it on South Coast near Margate Gardens?
    we had booked a place in Holetown but decided to pass completely

    • Holetown is on the West Coast far away from the South Coast and has a different sewer line. I live on the West and I buy bottled water, always have.

      You do not need to visit the South while on holiday so no need to cancel you holiday!

  9. There is a crisis on the South Coast, yes, def needs urgent solution. However, on the West / North / East Coast are good! Just don’t stay on that part of the island until it’s sorted! “Shit” happens in every country so just stop with all the extra and be reasonable.

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