Questions abound on the extent of the safety of Botswana’s drinking water.
This goes beyond just cleanliness. There are health issues involved.
As many people would attest, this has resulted with many people walking away from tap water.
Not everyone can afford to do that because alternatives are not cheap.
A growing number of people is still not satisfied that the water is safe to drink.
When questions were first posed at the time, the then minister responsible for water, Kitso Mokaila responded with anger.
Instead of engaging with those making the allegations, he took the low road, including shouting them down.
Incidentally the allegations at the time were made even by some embassies.
Sensitive to being attacked ion public, they recoiled into cocoons.
That was unfortunate.
The minister at the time could have done better.
It was like he was politicizing the issue that was effectively based on science, safety and hygiene.
Exactly why the cleanliness of water should be politicised or degenerate into name calling, it was never clear.
Water pollution is not unique to Botswana. It happens even in more developed countries.
In the end people felt he was hiding something.
That was not encouraging.
He should have known and done better.
Nowadays it is difficult to take any government official at their word.
Water Utilities Corporation has highly trained and competent staff in many disciplines.
WUC can with ease, backed by science and facts prove that its water is safe to drink.
As of now many embassies in Botswana have advised their staff to not drink water from the tap.
That cannot be good for the country or for WUC.
Many Batswana who can afford it have also long stopped drinking water from the tap.
There is no doubt that WUC is not aware of this.
It is not like these people do not drink tap water because they want to show that they have the means to buy more expensive alternatives.
It is simply because they are not convinced of the consistency of tap water supplied by WUC.
Again WUC is aware of the subtle controversy simmering around the safety of its drinking water.
And surely WUC can improve the image of the safety of its water, because it might well be that there is nothing inherently wrong with it, and that it is more about perceptions.
If that is so, it is still in the interest of WUC to rectify this persisting image problem – first by establishing where and how it started and why it has continued and is growing.
These factors are destined to remain in place and will become the focus of more people unless dealt with once and for all.
A bigger tragedy is when there is any truth them.
Because that would portend bigger health issues, including cancer for many people in the future.
And then when that happens people will ask themselves why such diseases are widespread among the lower economic classes, forgetting that these are the people who could not afford to buy alternative drinking water when others did.
In short, WUC has not been able to even explain away the problem.
They have tried to co-exist with it, hoping it will one day die on its own. It has not died.
People asking these questions have been depicted as snobbish, spoilt brats from the middle class or some other such description.
Nothing is further from the truth.
People asking these questions are people who seek answers.
The fact that they are not getting these answers is really not a failure in science.
But rather it is a failure in communications.
And WUC should correct that.
This debate can be put to rest once and for all.