Opinion: Coming soon to a town near you - undrinkable water

Havelock North is one of the most Pakeha, wealthy, farming, National-voting seats in the country, but even that could not get effective Government action in the middle of a crisis that has seen more than 5000 people made ill by drinking tainted water.

1 NEWS Columnist Dita DeBoni Source: 1 NEWS

Quite the opposite in fact.  While Mayor Lawrence Yule front-footed (and continues to front-foot) the media, apologising and conveying his personal devastation at the crisis, meaningful  Government action has been missing in action.

MP for Tukituki and former investment banker Craig Foss remained in Wellington as the disaster unfolded, coming back to take part in publicity shots of bottled water being handed out, and pleading that he’d been looking after his family.  

John Key said the decision to chlorinate water in every city would be “quite controversial” in places like Christchurch. Source: 1 NEWS

Jonathan Coleman, for whatever use he can ever be in any situation, was overseas.  Sent to the fold was Sam Lotu-Liga, an indication of how seriously the Government regarded the situation (ie, not very).

The fact the Government chose to not call a State of Emergency when thousands of New Zealanders were doubled over with gastroenteritis, schools were closing, and businesses struggling, is unbelievable.  

Even the impoverished town of Flint, Michigan in the US eventually managed a State of Emergency when a man-made water disaster saw thousands of residents exposed to toxic amounts of lead in its water.  

Authorities have fronted today over the crisis that started two weeks ago. Source: 1 NEWS

It allowed for $5 million to be immediately sent to the city to help provide water and filters for up to three months while the problem was sorted.

Our Government instead offered Havelock North tourism a desultory $100,000 to boost numbers into the town centre.  Craig Foss has attended the public meetings on the issue this week but has said nothing throughout. When asked why there had not been a State of Emergency called, a resident was told that the question should be put to Jonathan Coleman instead. 

Let’s not, then, hold our breath for any kind of meaningful answer to that crucial question.

Some believe a State of Emergency was not declared because the financial implications would be too great.

The move could also open up a bigger inquiry into what went wrong, potentially forcing not just Hawkes Bay, but all of New Zealand, to examine exactly what intensive farming is doing to our national waterways and eco-systems.

The ONE News Reporter says Havelock North locals are ‘angry and upset’ over the contamination.

Of course the work on that has already been done by some of our best scientists, but so far their findings have been successfully brushed aside.

Some locals speculate that hard droughts for two years running in Hawkes Bay left cracks in the ground, and a massive rain dump earlier in the year may have seen effluent seep into areas it would normally not enter.

That’s just speculation. But what isn’t speculation is that the bore in question is still contaminated, and the people of Hawkes Bay may never find out what caused their terrible bout of illness, and, in at least one case if not two, an actual fatality.

The region only now looks to have clean water, two weeks after the disaster, because it is being piped in from Hastings. That's a band-aid solution which doesn’t confront the problems with Havelock North water.

It also goes nowhere near asking how much other New Zealand water is infected with e-coli – whether it is detected in untreated water supplies such as Christchurch, or neutralised in treated water. 

It side-steps the issue of how much impact intensive farming has on natural resources – a conversation that will simply have to happen at some point. If not now, then in the near future.

And it allows the Government to once more heap blame on local authorities, already overburdened and under resourced, while ministers who should be planning, acting and advocating for the people of this country once more slip through unscathed by their sheer uselessness.