Shoulda-coulda-woulda-didn’t-damn: What choices does New Zealand have to make its drinking water safe in the wake of the Havelock North enquiry – and will the changes we make lead to safer drinking water?
The Health (Drinking water) Amendment Act placed New Zealand as a world leader in drinking water legislation in 2007. Along with the New Zealand Drinking Water Standards, Water Safety Plans and a staged approach to drinking water monitoring and enforcement through drinking water assessors, designated officers and the Ministry of Health, New Zealand should have been the safest place in the world to drink a glass of water. However, the country now has the dubious record of the largest campylobacter outbreak in the developed world. Part one of the enquiry into the Havelock North campylobacter outbreak addressed how this happened. Part two will address why it happened and what can be done to address the problem. If the enquiry only tinkers with monitoring and enforcement of drinking water, our system could remain vulnerable to high level interference. However, if the enquiry addresses the problem of the relationship between government and bureaucracy in New Zealand we may see real progress, not only in drinking water but in many areas of environmental health.