Public health emergency as 'shambolic' water company fails to restore supplies

Northern Ireland's escalating drinking water crisis is in danger of developing into a major health emergency, it was claimed yesterday.

Tens of thousands of homes and businesses are still without supplies as engineers struggle to plug burst pipes. Some families have not had fresh running water for eight days.

Northern Ireland Water (NIW), the company at the centre of the crisis, said it was unable to say when supplies would be fully restored.

More bottled water is being distributed in Belfast, one of the areas hardest hit, and tankers are to be placed across the province to help families, many of whom have been unable to use toilet facilities since before Christmas. Leisure centres in the city as well as others in Coleraine, Co Londonderry, Antrim, Cookstown, Co Tyrone, and Newry, Co Down, were among those which opened to provide washing and showering facilities.

With the onset of a winter vomiting bug, some doctors warned the crisis could quickly develop into a major health issue, especially among the elderly.

Dr Peter Maguire, a GP in Newry, said: "This is really now a public health emergency.

"Northern Ireland Water has been shambolic in their response.

"People with young families have not been able to flush toilets and wash themselves, never mind get access to drinking water."