Perched on the bank of what is known today as the Arima River, the eastern borough received its name from an Amerindian word which means water. However, today, a simple thing like taking a bath is now considered a luxury for some Arima residents who have been suffering for the essential commodity.
The water crisis has been affecting more than 30,000 burgesses throughout the seven electoral districts of Arima—Arima Central, Arima Northeast, Arima West/O'Meara, Calvary, Malabar North, Malabar South, and Tumpuna.
Residents cited the lack of water; poor drainage; a mosquito and rodent infestation; and the general absence of councillors as the major problems plaguing the electoral districts.
Appealing to their respective representatives to address other pressing issues such as the high crime and unemployment rates, residents and business owners said they have had enough and are now demanding the elected officers act immediately.
Controlled by the People's National Movement (PNM), the corporation is headed by Mayor Lisa Morris-Julian who has a green vision for the borough.
In the 2016 Local Government Elections ( LGE), the Elections and Boundaries Commission recorded 28,960 voters in the Arima district, of which only 9,230 electors cast their votes. Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has promised this year’s LGE which is due by November, will take place as scheduled.
Both the PNM and United National Congress (UNC) screened nominees for the Arima Corporation last month.
At All Stars Crescent in Malabar North, Stefan Hernandez pointed to the overgrown grass in his neighbour's backyard as he said the mosquitoes were unbearable and there was a rat infestation.
Hernandez, a car-wash owner said, “Although I reported it to the borough, no one is ever at home when officers come to do a site visit. Besides the mosquitoes, the rats from the nearby factory will run across so they will use my yard as a thoroughfare.”
Confirming his three-year-old son was having a hard time with the mosquitoes, Hernandez who has been living there for over 20 years, added, “Whenever it rains, the slush from the factory ends up closest to us so whenever rain falls, this whole area smells.”
He said he has been complaining since the last general election. “I don’t know what they did and only now when the rain falls heavily we get the scent, but it is encouraging the mosquitoes.”
He said the residents had previously spoken to councillor Linette Ramcharan who had addressed the issue of the stench. But he said more needs to be done now to address the issues.
Meanwhile, residents at Stephen Trace off Subero Street raised concerns about crime in the district.
One businessman said, “We are vulnerable here.”
Claiming business had declined by as much as 40 per cent in the last year, the owner who requested his name not be used, attributed this to several factors including the economic downturn and the decline in the standard of living.
He said, “We want to see more police patrols in the area because every day you hear things are happening all over. I am not a limer so I don’t be out, but I have had to curtail fishing expeditions as it is not safe out in the sea either.”
Living there for close to 40 years, one man said after being robbed years ago, he was forced to install CCTV cameras around his property to ensure the safety of his family.
Ronnie Khan, 36, of North Stars Avenue, said, “We always getting problems for water. Days going by and we not getting any water, so it’s hard to survive.”
Admitting crime was a major concern, he said it was not something that any single administration could solve. Many other residents raised similar issues.
Responding to the rash of concerns, Malabar North Councillor Linette Ramcharan said even though there was spraying operations by the borough to eliminate mosquitoes, homeowners also had to take personal responsibility and clean their premises as well.
She said, “We have been fighting this for years, it is not only now.”
Claiming that funding was an issue, she echoed previous concerns that the water situation had reached a crisis point where a shower was now being referred to as a “luxury.”
However, she said more needs to be done to rectify what can only be described as a perennial issue.
Indicating she has been facing challenges to ensure vacant lots are cleaned by absentee owners, Ramcharan said at the last statutory meeting, a motion was passed to have owners billed for the cost of cutting the lots and also absorb the administrative costs attached.
Hoping to return for a second term, Ramcharan said crime was an issue because, “Young people prefer the easier, faster, quicker way to get money.”
She said despite the numerous social programmes being offered by the Government where people could earn a stipend whilst learning a skill or trade, crime remained a personal choice and sadly, not all people made the right one.
At Factory Road, Printeryville in Arima West/O’Meara, an elderly woman cried, “Every time it rains heavily, my whole house floods.”
Refusing to give her name, the mother and grandmother who has lived there for the past 35 years said, “When it rains and the water comes down in the drain, it cannot hold the volume of water and it comes gushing into my yard.” She said the infrastructure was inadequate to cater to the needs of the changing community.
Also echoing the call for a regular supply of water, the woman said, “Right now we have no water and we can’t do anything. It is difficult to wash or cook or clean because you need water for all these things.”
Lending a hand to her neighbour who was busy cleaning her yard, both women claimed to be disillusioned by the politics. “From one government to the next, it is the same. Nobody does anything for us here.”
Meanwhile, Curlene Modeste lamented the lack of educational and training opportunities for youth in the area.
Resident in the community for more than 35 years, Modeste called for something more to be done to assist the secondary school students who have little to no hope of improving their current situation.
Indicating she was not affected by flooding or other social ills, Modeste’s only concern is ensuring the youth have a future even if they drop out of school.
Admitting the water crisis was not an isolated occurrence but rather a national issue, Arima West/O’Meara Councillor Anthony Davis said, “There is a little bit of water in the dams and they have been load shedding.
Some areas will get today, some will get tomorrow. People have to understand there isn’t sufficient rain to fill the dams and that is why we have a water problem.”
Reiterating that councillors do not deal with unemployment as that was not part of their portfolio, he emphasised, “We don’t hire people.”
He criticised some who claimed they were unable to secure work. “People want to work in the borough…come to work eight o’clock and finish nine o’clock or come six and finish seven. They don’t want to work an eight-hour job like we are accustomed to.”
On the issue of crime, he said it was a repeated cry by pensioners who were targets of unscrupulous youths during the month-end period.
However, Davis said additional police officers had been assigned to the borough and with another 25 slated to be added in the coming weeks, it should be a deterrent.
Questioned about a barrier erected along Factory Road to prevent motorists from accessing the roadway which leads off the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway, Davis confirmed it was an issue the mayor was currently looking into.
He said, “That was installed by National Canners and has nothing to do with us.”
Providing some context, he said roads could not be constructed without the permission of the Ministry of Works and Transport and efforts were underway to determine if permission had ever been granted for that road to be built and similarly, for the barrier to be installed which was a recent development.
His list of accomplishments includes infrastructural upgrades at Printeryville; the repaving of several roads in the district; and the promotion of a recycling competition among primary school students.
On the cards is the reconstruction of a drain which runs from the Arima Old Road down to the Mausica River, which he said was currently being eroded every time it rained.
“If I could get that drain fixed, that would alleviate most of the issues with mosquitoes and rodents that most of the residents complained about.”
Additionally, two more drains are to be built in Printeryville which should help to reduce the flooding currently being experienced by some of the residents.
Davis expressed anger over the theft of a water tank from a URP job site at Printeryville where a box drain is still under construction. “I have done my best to treat the people within my electoral district as best as I can, with the funding that was made available to me.”
Going by the alias Lorry, a Phase Four, Malabar resident said, “I really want to see more jobs for people.”
The self-employed welder/fabricator was busy mixing concrete as he was being interviewed.
The father of a three-year-old girl explained, “I never voted in my life and I don’t plan to vote because regardless of who’s in power, I still have to work hard. I don’t know what other people are saying but I could do with more jobs and for the roads to be fixed…otherwise, we good.”
Kevin, who has been living at Holly Betaudier Avenue for the past nine years, said his immediate concern was for a regular water supply.
Revealing the area was currently on a three-days-a-week schedule, the business owner who operates a car-cleaning company commended the Arima Borough for ensuring the garbage collection and maintenance of roads and other infrastructural works were up-to-date.
However, he acknowledged, “Things have slowed down business-wise and the neighbourhood is relatively quiet in terms of crime.”
At Eustace Draper Avenue, Michael complained of petty crimes in the area.
He said, “There are security issues because every now and then, you will hear somebody’s house was broken into. The water is an issue but I have grown accustomed to it and operate accordingly.”
He said many home owners had been forced to install water tanks but it was still a problem as the supply was sometimes a trickle which was unable to fill the tanks.
A female shop owner said she had adopted an attitude of “doing for herself” and not being dependent on the councillor whom she complained was absent year-round.
Responding to the issues raised by burgesses within his electoral district of Malabar South, Councillor Bertiney Pollidore said, “Most of the issues raised there aren’t actually local government issues. However, as local government practitioners, we try to assist residents where and when we can.”
Living in the area himself, Pollidore is familiar with the water woes as he too has experienced the problems many times.
He said, “My electoral district is on a schedule and I live in the area as well so I too have had problems at times, where water is concerned.”
Claiming he has had to contact WASA on several occasions to supply the area with water, he said the action was usually swift but there was no escaping the fact that this precious resource remained a scheduled commodity.
Regarding other issues such as crime and unemployment, Pollidore said he has personally helped in the formation of several neighbourhood watch groups; got the police to assist with more patrols and even installed cameras in certain areas. Having served for close to three years, Pollidore’s list of accomplishments boasts of over 15 roads being repaved and several footpaths redone; a more comprehensive drainage plan to mitigate against flooding; and increased recycling initiatives.
Should he be selected to serve again, Pollidore said his plans included the development of a community park for residents at Phase Three, along with the installation of exercise equipment near the Larry Gomes Stadium; an enhanced street-lighting programme; and the construction of a netball/lawn tennis court for the people of the area.
In the electoral district of councillor Michael Castellano, burgesses in Calvary vented their feelings about the poor distribution of pipe-borne water.
Indicating it was a problem which they have grown accustomed to, Marie Street resident Daisy Bascombe could not hold back her tongue.
Claiming the community was on the verge of a water crisis even in the rainy season, Bascombe said she had not seen water in her tap for two weeks.
"It came this morning for an hour and left. How much you could do in an hour? I couldn't even wash my children's clothes. This thing infuriating me now, man," she complained.
The mother of five conserves water in her 500-gallon tank by rationing.
"I am not ashamed to say I don't bathe every day. And on the days I bathe, I use only half a bucket. I have been trying to save the water for more important things like cooking. Oh gosh, man! How much people could take?"
Bascombe also restricts her children from opening the taps in her two-bedroom house and flushing the toilet.
At Maypole Drive, Davia Riley said he was at her wits' end.
"People so frustrated not getting water in Calvary this could make the PNM lose this electoral seat in the coming Local Government elections. People are furious and frustrated. Our patience is running thin," Riley said.
Jerome Grimes of Walnut Street said the situation warranted intervention.
"Is like we don't exist when it comes to water. We ain't getting nothing. To make matters worse, we don't even see the councillor so we could vent our feelings."
During his three-year term, Calvary councillor Michael Castellano boasted of accomplishing a lot and improving the lives of his burgesses through ensuring roads are paved and box drains built.
Although he admitted that unemployment and the lack of sporting facilities were critical issues in his district, he said water has been the biggest challenge.
"I know water is an issue in Arima...especially Calvary."
To relieve the suffering of his burgesses, Castellano said he showed WASA a spring which could be tapped into to improve the water distribution.
He also recommended to WASA that they re-commission a 44,000-gallon tank in the area to "buffer" the water supply.
"To me, the tank is in good shape. It may need a little fixing here and there. But it was never put back into use. It is just there doing nothing."
Though Castellano was screened by the party last month, he was not selected.
"I have not been selected but I will not turn my back on the PNM. I promise to rally behind the party and give them whatever support they need in the Local Government elections."