Listhaug on Askøy: “I hope others will learn from this”
Norwegian Minister of Health, Sylvi Listhaug (Progress Party), hopes that Norwegian municipalities will learn from the drinking water scandal at Askøy. “This should never have happened,” she states.
“I hope that Norwegian municipalities will learn from this – and take responsibility for the drinking water. We must be certain that tap water is safe to drink,” Listhaug tells NTB.
Listhaug travelled to Askøy on Monday to be informed about the onset of Campylobacter. The infection of the drinking water has ravaged the municipality. She also visited a family that has been affected.
“I got to know just how tough it has been for them,” Listhaug explains, adding:
“The municipality has done everything that they can to control the situation. That’s good.”
More than 2,000 residents of Askøy have become ill from drinking water in the last weeks. More than 70 have become so ill that they have been hospitalised. A 72-years-old woman died last Wednesday, while a one-year-old died the week before that. Both Were infected by Campylobacter, it is, however, unclear whether this is the cause of death in either of the cases.
The bacterium may have entered the drinking water through animal faeces leaking into a reservoir.
Askøy municipality will now have an external investigation of the water scandal, in order to get to the bottom of what has happened.
Will address the cost recovery principle
An improvement of the drinking water supply will not come cheap.
The municipality announced in advance that they would address the problems of financing with Listhaug. Since 2002, plans for repair have been on the table, but the case has been perpetually postponed. A report from 2017 shows that the repair, with a price tag of NOK 3.8 billion, would result in a tripling of the water and sewage fee – to more than NOK 30,000.
The reason is that the water supply in Norway is operated according to a cost recovery principle, which means that the citizens must fork out.
“The cost recovery principle is something I will address to the minister. This, obviously, applies not only to Askøy, but very many Norwegian municipalities,” Mayor of Askøy, Terje Mathiassen (Labour) tells NTB.
No promises to Askøy
There were no promises of state financial assistance in Listhaug’s attaché case. She, However, requests a mapping of the drinking water situation in all Norwegian municipalities.
“Initially, we have asked the Norwegian Food Safety Authority to map out necessary and planned investments, especially when it comes to the water pipe network,” the Minister of Health, explains.
“Then we have to review the actual state of affairs. After that, whether there are any steps we can take. The starting point is the cost recovery principle, but it is quite obvious that we must work along several tracks,” she states, pointing to that development of technology can result in lower investment costs.
There is a total lag of NOK 280 billion regarding maintenance of the water pipe network in Norwegian municipalities, according to the Norwegian Water Association.
Deputy Mayor of Askøy, Bård Espelid, believes that the drinking water scandal shows which squeeze municipalities are in; in terms of how major improvements of this type of infrastructure should be financed.
“It is a delicate balance. Many residents will not be able to afford to pay NOK 30,000 in water fees,” Espelid concludes.
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