Sewage spill sullies brand Barbados

Barbados Prime Minister Freundel Stuart.
Photo by George Alleyne

A sewage issue that has been literally bubbling for years was within a week hurled into the international glare with the United States and Canada and the UK advising their nationals visiting Barbados to be mindful of a health risk.

Government had been warned since 2015 that the sewerage system, set up to process effluent from residents and business houses on this tourism destination laden with glitzy hotels and restaurants, was about to collapse if urgent maintenance measures were not applied.

With the warning coming from Leader of the political Opposition Mia Mottley, the issue fell within the realm of political upmanship that led the administration of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart downplaying the matter while the undermaintained piping, pumping and dispersal system slowly buckled and began spilling untreated waste matter out of manholes.

The issue burst to the surface in a big way in 2016 as persons with homes in the zone and business operators began complaining of untreated sewage accompanied by strong odour bubbling onto the streets, into yards of residents and business compounds.

When the situation became very obvious and flowed past any possible denials the authorities began frantic remedial efforts at locating problem areas and importing necessary equipment to upgrade the sewerage facility.

There have been media reports of some businesses closing and a number of residents leaving their homes.

TripAdvisor the online international tourism destination rating agency in December began publishing complaints of disgruntled visitors to the island.

But the proverbial fecal matter hit the fan when the Canadians and the United States, two of Barbados’ prime tourism markets, issued advisories telling nationals to be health conscious when visiting the island.

On Tuesday the Canadian government began advising its nationals of a need for caution as there is a health risk on the Barbados south coast.

The United States followed Wednesday, stating “there is an overflow of raw sewage due to mechanical failure on the island’s South Coast that is affecting the water quality at certain beaches between the Hastings and St. Lawrence gap areas.

“Sewage has periodically bubbled up onto the streets.”

The UK, the market from which most of Barbados’ tourists travel, stepped up with its advisory on Thursday.

“Certain areas of the south coast are experiencing breakdowns of sewage pipes. Leakages are occurring; you should avoid coming into direct contact with raw sewage and normal hygiene precautions should be followed,” the British High Commission in Bridgetown stated on its website in a message to nationals.

The hits from these travel advisories that sully Barbados’ brand as a tourism destination come in the same week that some businesses are reporting an ease of the dreadful situation, because of remedial work of the authorities.

Amidst this international fallout, Prime Minister Stuart addressed several tourists during an annual reception for frequent visitors, and appeared to be subtly defending the bubbling issue on the south coast.

“Tourism is the lead sector of our economy and therefore it is important to us that we do nothing to undermine, or to weaken the confidence which you have continuedly displayed in Barbados over the years,” he said, adding, “We have never pretended to be a perfect country.

“In fact, I don’t know of any perfect country on this planet.

“The countries from which you have come are not perfect. In fact, if they were perfect you would not be here.”

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