Darcus Howe sees water but not a drop to drink

Islands where the sea is always visible, yet there is no water to drink

I had to return hurriedly to Tobago to send off a close relative "hid in death's dateless night". George was a simple dock worker, seemingly apolitical but deeply convinced about the need for change in his country. His funeral was enormous and ended with a street parade driven along by a steel band. It was exotic and Caribbean-crazy.

Yet reality struck the community in which he lived almost at once. Water woes are prevalent in Tobago. Taps run dry, with not a drop to be had in the fierce sunlight. The sea is visible from every vantage point on this tiny island. It is indeed a case of "Water, water, everywhere,/Nor any drop to drink". Severn Trent cashed in millions in these parts and produced some of the fattest cats in the hemisphere.

Over in Trinidad, the residents of a suburb just west of Port of Spain have besieged the governing party's offices to demand the resignation of the local MP and their immediate access to water. The better-off purchase huge water tanks and the water and sewage authority fills them graciously. The recipients need not worry when the mains are turned off at least thrice weekly. The very poor, however, pay hustlers who work with the authority to fill every receptacle in the home. Such conditions trigger both a diseased population and revolutionary passions. Water riots are a common political phenomenon here.

Here local fat cats, appointed to posts in state industries, defend their greed within earshot of the deprived masses. It is a kind of torture, like dangling food on a string before the most famished. This has the result that young bandits lurk everywhere. I have just heard that the wife of the assistant commissioner of police - a man I wrote about in a previous column - has had her car hijacked. She was flung out at the side of the road.

Meanwhile, Operation Baghdad is in full swing - so called because the army and the police are laying siege to a gun-toting community. The bandits retreat at night, but are shooting it out High Noon style in the day.

The only cheering news around here is that the West Indian cricket team has beaten the supposedly invincible Australians in consecutive one-day matches.