Safe water guidelines set

Provision of safe drinking water is a worldwide concern. That concern was addressed in Cayman this week at a meeting of the Steering Committee for the preparation of a World Health Organisation (WHO) guidance documentation on desalination for safe water supply.

Participants from 11 different countries came here at the invitation of Dr. Gelia Frederick van Genderen, director of the Water Authority-Cayman. Dr. Frederick-van Genderen was selected as a member of the committee at its first meeting in Bahrain in May 2004.

The committee is not only international in its make-up, it is also diverse in the areas of expertise and specialisation members represent.

This week, meeting at the Marriott Beach Resort Monday through Wednesday, members finalised their recommendations. These will be forwarded to WHO and the United Nations Environmental Programme.

It is expected that WHO and UNEP will publish those recommendations as guidance for international use within the next few months, explained Dr. Joseph Cotruvo, technical advisor for the steering committee.

How the guidelines are used will depend on the governments of individual countries, Dr. Cotruvo indicated. WHO and UNEP provide the information so that countries can make the right decisions for their situation.

Recommendations cover everything from protection of the water source, treatment plants, storage and distribution systems. The delivery of safe drinking water to the consumer depends on the integrity of every phase of the process, Dr. Cotruvo pointed out.

In some locations, there is a separation of thinking, he commented. Engineers at the water treatment plant have their concerns, public health officials have theirs. The purpose of the guidelines is to get people working together.

Members got a break from their hours of discussion when they were taken to visit the Water Authority-Cayman’s North Sound plant, a new reverse osmosis desalination facility operated by Ocean Conversion, a subsidiary of Consolidated Water Company.

Dr. Abouzaid commented on two aspects of the operation that impressed him: the fact that seawater is taken from a deep well, so it is cleaned and filtered before it goes to the desal plant; the fact that the plant is very well run. ‘People understand what they are doing. They haven’t experienced any slippage in operation,’ he observed.

‘Dr. Gelia is managing the system very effectively with her people. We have seen the way the Authority is working with the private company,’ Dr. Abouzaid noted.

Dr. Medina also commented on the public sector/private sector relationship.

‘I think this is the future,’ he said. He explained that any place in the world requires a lot of money to meet the water needs of its population. Many countries don’t have a lot of money, but even those that do are trying to privatise their systems, he indicated. Dr. Medina cited several counties that maintain public sector ownership, ranging from 30 to at least 51 per cent.

Dr. Prevost praised the Water Authority’s laboratories as well-equipped. Staff members are carrying on commendable research with a high level of science and enthusiasm, she commented.

The only other group outing was a visit to the Turtle Farm at Boatswain’s Bay for a tour and Caymanian supper.

Dr. Prevost also commented on how nice the people whom participants had met during the week. ‘We’re very grateful to them,’ she said.

Meeting Participants

Dr. Gelia Frederick van Genderen, director of the Water Authority-Cayman.

Dr. Joseph Cotruvo, technical advisor for the WHO steering committee.

Steering committee chairman Dr. Houssain Abouzaid, coordinator of the Healthy Environment programme for WHO/ EMRO, Egypt.

Dr. Michele Prevost, senior chair holder and professor, Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal/ Civil Engineering, Canada;

Dr. David Cunliffe, principal water quality advisor, South Australia;

Dr. Mahmood Abdulraheem, Kadhema for Environmental Consultancy and Services, Kuwait;

Dr. Frank Leitz, US Bureau of Reclamation, USA;

Dr. James Goodrich, US Environmental Protection Agency, USA;

Dr. Jose Antonio Medina, president of the International Desalination Association, Spain;

Mr. Amer Al-Rabeh, Saline Water Conversion Corporation, Saudi Arabia;

Dr. Nikolay Voutchkov, Poseidon Resources, USA;

Dr. Habib El-Habr, director and regional representative for UNEP Regional Office for West Asia, Kingdom of Bahrain;

Dr. John Fawell, toxicologist and public health consultant, United Kingdom;

Ms Sabine Latteman, specialist in policies dealing with public health and environmental protection, Germany

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