Monday, February 18, 2008

water, water...

I write this at three o clock on a Thursday afternoon. On Tuesday when we arrived at work, on the site of the water treatment plant, the aerators were not aerating – a rare site, and a sign that the plant was not operational. Usually, if and when it does happen, it is because they have ‘light off’ at the plant – despite the country’s problems with the electricity, the WTP has 24hr supply as it is doing such an important job. However, it did not start aerating all day, and we found out mid-afternoon that it was not a power problem, but overnight a pipe had burst in the main pump house, on the main transmission line to the city. The pump house was flooded, and the people who run the plant were not doing all that much to fix it. They eventually had it all pumped dry by 11pm on the Tuesday night.

Now, I’m not particularly au fait with such workings, but I am told that the solution to the problem was relatively straight forward – a days job maybe.

But here we are and they have only just started the first step.

Meanwhile, the city of 1.5million is without water. This WTP must supply about 60% of the city with drinking water. For a small section of the populace who have storage tanks at their houses, it is not yet a problem. But for the poorer, less fortunate ones, it is more than a mere inconvenience. On my way to work this morning I saw countless people wandering down the roads with buckets and billy cans, as they have been without water since Monday night. And for the really poor families, the ones who have nothing and cannot afford bottled water, one wonders how they survive. And what of the businesses that need water to stay afloat – the schools, the hotels, the restaurants, the museum, the football stadium at this crucial time? And what of the hospitals, surely water is a staple of all they do? Not to mention the extra cases they may get due to dehydration, and diseases from drinking unsuitable sources of water.

I have just been for a wander around the plant. There is one guy doing some welding of the critical piece, and six others stood around him watching. There are a group of the management sitting on chairs under a tree. And upstairs inside, I could hear football coming from a TV.
I can’t help but try to imagine this situation back in the UK. 60% of Manchester without water for nearly three days, with no warning, and no explanation. A tabloid reporter sneaks into the plant and snaps a few of the guys watching a repeat of Ronaldo’s wonder-goal from last night, then manages to get a peach of a photo of senior management sitting around in the board room eating bacon butties having a right old chinwag about who will win this year’s European Cup. Back out at the plant, he sees one guy idly do a spot of welding, with several others watching. These photos would be printed next day alongside letters from many a disgruntled resident of the city. The local radio stations would be wall to wall with irate housewives calling in disgust. The council would be getting letters, phone calls, the MPs for the city would be getting a barrage of complaints. And the water company would pay for it, not only through a large fine, but maybe with their jobs.

But here, the water will maybe be back on by Friday night, and the incident will be forgotten. No statement of apology will be made. No-one will be taken to task. No-one will write and complain. Or if they do it will be ignored. Nothing will be put into place to ensure it doesn’t happen again. No investigation will be done to see why it took over 48 hours to find the relevant parts.

I wonder why this is? Is it merely because people know nothing will be done even if they do complain? Are people so used to it they do not realise how unacceptable it is? Is it that people don’t know how it should be? Or am I just so westernised and spoilt by living in the UK that I am complaining about nothing?

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