Fury in N. Ireland over water crisis

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Bosses in charge of Northern Ireland's water supply were under pressure to quit Friday after ministers roasted them over the tens of thousands of people still without proper services.

The province's First Minister Peter Robinson said NI Water's response to the ongoing crisis was "shambolic", adding that "there has to be an accountability... and people must assess their positions."

More than 6,000 homes remain without water and supply is being rotated to up to 60,000 people in a bid to manage the situation as the leaks drain reservoirs.

Some families have not had toilet or washing facilities for 12 days.

Doctors warned the continued shortages could spark a public health crisis as engineers struggled to repair thousands of pipes which froze then burst following some of the coldest weather in Northern Ireland in decades.

Almost 80 towns and villages have been affected across Northern Ireland, with up to 40,000 people completely without water supplies at points.

Leisure centres have been letting people use their showers, while the Scottish authorities have helped by shipping in 160,000 litres of bottled water to be distributed to homes and businesses.

Although the situation is improving, NI Water said it could be next week before some remote areas are fixed. The body hopes to have much of the affected areas of Belfast reconnected Friday.

Robinson called an emergency meeting of his ministers Thursday to discuss the crisis.

"We are not satisfied with the performance and are absolutely determined that it will not be repeated," he said.

"It has been shambolic at stages, it has been ineffective, it has not been the kind of organisation that has been fit for purpose."

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness added: "There has to be accountability and we are not going to under those circumstances stand here and make excuses for a body that has so miserably failed our citizens."

Some politicians have said the crisis points to a chronic lack of investment in a province which only emerged a decade ago from 30 years of killings and bombings known as The Troubles.

Northern Ireland's Environment Minister Edwin Poots said three billion pounds (3.5 billion euros, 4.7 billion dollars) had been invested in recent years but the problem was a "historic issue" -- and he insisted NI Water and not the government was to blame.

He said: "A lot of that was really down to The Troubles, when money was diverted from areas such as water to pay for bombs and security services and so forth. But if you have 30 years of under-investment, you are not going to catch up in four or five."

© 2010 AFP

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