Water will not be privatised
Poor people should be provided water at low
cost. The public should be made aware of the social responsibility to
protect water, purified water is being used by some people to wash
vehicles and clothes. Clean water is a must for good health, so it is
our duty to use water sparingly and by thinking about the future. These
are the extracts of an interview conducted with Water Supply and
Drainage Minister Dinesh Gunawardena. He is the leader of the Mahajana
Eksath Peramuna and the Chief Government Whip
Q: What are the burning issues existing in this field at the
A: The cost factor is one of the main issues that exist at the
moment. We should provide water at low cost for the poor people. But at
the moment purified drinking water is being used for other purposes such
as washing vehicles and clothes. Changing this system is a challenge.
Labugama and Kalatuwawa are two of the oldest water reservoirs in Sri
Lanka and they are around 125 years old. The country’s waterbed is
affected due to various reasons.
Q: What type of solutions can be given to those problems?
Water Supply and Drainage Minister
A: More attention will be paid to make the public aware of
social responsibility and the need to protect water. Safe drinking water
is very important to keep human beings healthy. Clean water is a must
for good health. Sewage is also very important. Colombo Sewage system is
100 years old and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) assists to
rehabilitate it. More technology should be introduced to the water
sector to handle excessive workloads.
Sri Lanka has 4,000 community water supply schemes and also won an
International award for their success. Sri Lanka’s community water
supply schemes have been used as an example for a success story at
International level. This International recognition is a significant
achievement for Sri Lanka in the water sector. Community water supply
schemes are not only about supplying water for far away villages. It is
about educating people on the importance of protecting water. All
community water supply schemes which managed by CBOs will be assisted to
continue their service successfully.
Q: Describe your future plans for this ministry
A: Sri Lanka is blessed with rainwater and the rainwater can
be used for both drinking and other household requirements. Jaffna is a
very good example for using rainwater in traditional ways. Rainwater
should be used to its maximum. Water should be purified before releasing
into the ground. This is another area that needs to be focused on. A lot
of new rules and regulations come into practice, new alternative methods
are being discovered everyday and there is new knowledge. I hope our
universities will pay their attention towards this.
Water will be supplied to North and East. Water will be supplied to
five districts in the region and construction activities have been speed
up to provide clean drinking water for newly re-settled inhabitants in
the North as soon as possible. The Kelani riverbank is collapsing and it
will be completely restored shortly. Arrangements will be made to
protect the Kalu Ganga banks. I hope politicians will think about the
future of the country and coorperate with these activities.
Q: Is there any specific area that should be given priority?
A: Still only 33 percent of the total population of Sri Lanka
enjoy pipe borne drinking water. The Water Supply and Drainage Board
supplies water to the country at a very low price. But today the price
of bottled water is very high in Sri Lanka. There is a huge gap between
the prices of a unit of water supplied by the board and the price of a
water bottle available in supermarkets. Attention will be paid to start
water bottling through the State sector.
Q: This is a new subject for you. How are you going to face
this new challenge?
A: This is not a new subject for me at all because I held the
post of Urban Development and Water Supply Minister from 2004 to 2007.
There are some future challenges exist in the water sector. One of them
is dealing with the increasing salinity in water with the climate change
and increasing sea level. This is not an urgent matter but it cannot be
overlooked. Another problem is the direct connection exist between the
rapidly increasing kidney diseases in certain areas of the country and
the supply of drinking water. All the countries are now demanding an
extension of Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and most of the
countries have not achieved several MDGs in various fields. Water is one
of such fields.
Q: Wastage of water is one of the main problems that exist at
the moment. Do you have any plans to stop this?
A: Yes. I will make arrangements to obtain the cooperation and
participation of water consumers to stop water wastage. Our ancestors
protected water and made use of every drop fell from the sky. The best
example for this is the advice of King Prakramabahu who told his
countrymen not to waste even a single drop of water fall from the sky
and to make use of every drop of water before flowing into the sea.
Therefore protecting water is in our culture. It is not something new
Q: Formulating plans to sell water is always a hot topic that
caught public attention. What is the real situation?
A: Water will not be privatised. It was the previous UNP
regime that wanted to bring a Water Bill into the Parliament but the
President Mahinda Rajapaksa gave an assurance to the people not to sell
State properties. Under Mahinda Chintana no State institution will be
privatised. Therefore water will not be privatised.
I would like to have an open dialogue with all NGOs and other private
institutions involved in water sector development in Sri Lanka. If both
State and private sector work together, people will receive more
benefits. The poor should not be suffered no matter whether we make
profits or not by supplying water to the public. Water sector will be
developed based on this concept.