South central Jamaica crying out for water

Crisis!

BY GARFIELD MYERS Editor-at-large, South/Central Bureau myersg@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, July 28, 2014    

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MANDEVILLE, Manchester — In St Elizabeth the drought is so intense, member of Parliament for the parish's south east, Richard Parchment, wants his constituency declared a disaster area to facilitate speedy relief.

"Many people are struggling to find a cup of water to drink," explains Parchment. "What we have now is a very, very serious situation... lives depend on drastic action," he said.

The situation is hardly better in sections of Clarendon and Manchester.

While the damage to farming is devastating, and the threat of bush fires escalate with every passing day, increasingly, the authorities in south central Jamaica are scrambling to truck drinking water to distressed residents.

The cost of trucking is a major constraint despite emergency help for the local authorities from central government.

In populous Clarendon, chairman of the parish council and mayor of May Pen Scean Barnswell says it is now costing the council $13 million per month to truck water to all parts of the parish. An average of 270 truckloads of water per month are now being dispensed by the Clarendon Parish Council, he said.

"Basically now we have to be doubling up in terms of response to demands from communities in all six constituencies of Clarendon," Barnswell said.

Like all of rural Jamaica , much of Clarendon is without piped water from the National Water Commission and supplementary water supplies sourced to the Rio Minho helps to fill the gap.

But as Barnswell explained, the river has now run dry due to the long absence of rain.

In Manchester, mayor of Mandeville Brenda Ramsay says she is praying fervently for rain. "My knees are feeling the effects," she said. Ramsay says 90 per cent of community tanks in Manchester are now dry and much the same is true of household domestic water tanks which have always served in the absence of NWC water.

"It used to be that in a drought there were some areas we didn't have to worry so much about... South Manchester use to be the main problem area," said Ramsay. "But now we have to be trucking water everywhere," she said.

Ramsay says her council is now spending close to $3 million on trucking - the single water truck operated by the local authority is being supported by a number of private operators. Water is being trucked from loading bays in Porus in south-east Manchester and Prospect in the parish's south west. According to Ramsay a big problem is the time taken in loading and delivery.

Parchment told Observer Central that in June, water trucking for south-east St Elizabeth alone consumed $1.5 million in allocations from the constituency development fund (CDF) and other emergency allocations.

St Elizabeth is particularly vulnerable to long droughts since less than half of the population is served by the NWC. And in the south east - sections of which record some of the lowest rainfall in Jamaica - only about 10 per cent of the population enjoy NWC water.

As is the case in Manchester, such communities are dependent on rainwater catchment tanks but with little or no rain in south and central St Elizabeth since May, such catchments are now dry.

"From Duff House (on the Manchester border) to Leeds (close to Santa Cruz ) all the water tanks are dry," said Parchment.

For those with capacity to buy water for up to $15,000 per load from private truckers, the situation isn't so bad.

However, as both Barnswell and Parchment told Observer Central, many farmers who have lost their crops in the drought are now penniless and must depend on support from political representatives.

Parchment hailed several private truckers whom he claimed had continued to truck water "on credit".

The situation has been made worse by a cutback in social water services by the mothballed Alpart plant which controls a well and loading bay at Nain on the south St Elizabeth /South Manchester border.

Parchment explained that the high cost of electricity had forced Alpart to reduce the pumping of water at its loading bay to just two hours. "I am trying to get government representatives and Alpart to sit down and work out an arrangement," said Parchment.

With the cutback of Alpart water, a private well in Cheapside just below Junction which is distributing water to truckers at $3,000 per load is proving a "god send", said Parchment.

Mayor of Black River and chairman of the St Elizabeth parish council, Everton Fisher, was thankful that while the situation in the parched south and some central sections of the parish is desperate, there has been some amount of rain in the north and west.

According to Fisher it is now costing the council between $800,000 and $1.2 million to truck water. He noted that the effort has been aided with the provision of three rapid response water trucks.

Political respresentatives agree that even with their best efforts, their constituents must also help themselves by buying water privately.

However, respondents in Manchester and St Elizabeth told Observer Central last week that the cost of transporting potable water is increasingly prohibitive. Owners of open back vans, small trucks and wagons usually used as taxis are now providing a regular water service to low-end consumers, unable to pay for truckloads.

A resident of Marlie Hill in South Manchester told Observer Central by telephone that it is costing her $2,500 to have a 260-gallon drum of water delivered to her house.

At Top Burnt Ground in the lower reaches of the Santa Cruz Mountains, residents are reportedly paying between $50 and $100 to have delivery of a five-gallon water bottle from an NWC stand pipe on the outskirts of Santa Cruz.

NWC water lock-offs, mean that sometimes trips to the stand pipe prove a waste of time and money, residents complain.

All agree that there has to be a sustainable long-term effort to deal with droughts and water shortages. But for now everyone is simply praying for rain.

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