Muscat: The current water shortage in most parts of Oman is not new. It has now become a public crisis because the authorities, due to oversight, have simply lost control of the problem.
The national water network grid supplied 5.3 per cent less water by February this year compared to the last 12 months, according to official statistics. However, the problem is much bigger. Water wastage contributes hugely to the problem, apart from the slow execution or delayed projects. Old water pipes that go back to four decades are leaky, either due to lack of maintenance or because they are not replaced fast enough.
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Although Oman has started the drive to build desalination plants since the 1980s, the country is still struggling to get the scheme of refining sea water right to satisfy the rising demand. Perhaps, the most obvious culprit in the planning of water supply is the coordination of various government departments to anticipate the rising demand.
For example, the urban planners do not communicate effectively to the agencies responsible for water supplies in terms of the number of houses expected to be built. As villages rapidly develop into towns and eventually to sprawling cities, the demand does not get the attention it deserves.
Population increase is another example and so are huge projects under execution that need tens of thousands of gallons of water per day. The current problem is not an accident but was waiting to happen because of indecisiveness and mismanagement. If not, what else can it be?
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The authorities have been defensive when it comes to such criticism but the general oversight simply hurts consumers who pay their hard-earned money to have uninterrupted water supply to their houses.
In a country that has a widespread welfare system, including free education and health services, some governmental agencies have a wrong notion that water and electricity supply is part of this. Yes, water and electricity supply is subsidised but consumers still pay what they are billed and as customers, they have the right to ask questions. In the age of consumerism, customers need to lodge complaints in the strongest manner when it comes to a critical issue like water. The last thing they want is to be intimidated by authorities who want to cover up for their sloppiness.
Perhaps, this is the main reason why the country is suffering a water crisis now. Officials appointed by the government to run the water network feel they can get away with it simply because they think they are above scrutiny.
Two major desalination plants that were supposed to be commissioned months ago have been delayed leaving thousands of houses cut off from water. With summer temperatures touching half the boiling point, residents are paying exorbitant prices to have water tankers filling up their storage tanks. For some of them, the water shortages have been continuing for a year now. With the holy month of Ramadan approaching, consumers are bracing for the worst as water demand is expected to go up.
The people most affected are in the low-income bracket, who find themselves paying ten times the normal rate as charged by greedy water tankers owners who are now taking advantage of the shortage. There is already talk of rationing water to try to cope with the problem but this will not solve the problem.
While waiting for the completion of desalination plants, new pumps, replacements of old pipes, the least the government can do now is to mobilise its resources to supply water by tankers to people who cannot afford to pay for privately delivered water.
But the urgency of better water management cannot be underestimated to ensure an uninterrupted supply. As natural water from the underground reservoir systems is rapidly depleting, the government would need to focus on upgrading the dilapidated water infrastructure by building more desalination plants as the demand is set to increase, to avert future water crisis.
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