Editorial

Flush out the water thieves... whosoever they may be

Tuesday, August 26, 2014    

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NATIONAL Water Commission (NWC) executive Mr Richard Meggoo wants stronger legislation to give judges greater powers to punish water thieves.

"The fines are not punitive enough. It doesn't compare to the fines that are charged for stealing electricity," Mr Meggoo is reported by the Sunday Observer as saying.

His comments come amid reports that a large percentage of NWC water is being stolen.

It would appear that the phenomenon is on the rise in inner-city communities and other built-up areas. Some wealthy individuals and successful businesses are said to be prominent among the thieves. Of course, the prolonged drought of recent months has brought the situation into sharper focus.

The cash-strapped NWC seems to be saying that pilfering is hurting its capacity to survive as well as service the needs of its legitimate customers. And, further, that the time has come to act.

Something to consider is that water theft is not new. For decades, the antisocial and criminal practice has been rampant in many farming communities, not least the arid slopes and plains of south-east St Elizabeth and southern Manchester.

The town of Junction, for example, which is routinely considered one of rural Jamaica's more prosperous and fast-growing, is mostly without domestic piped water largely because of water thieves.

Back in 2006, that's eight years ago, the Observer told the story of farmers stealing water by cynically boring holes in NWC mains to siphon domestic water meant for communities at higher elevations such as Junction, Comma Pen and Bull Savannah.

Inevitably, the situation led to very low water pressure, even at relatively low altitudes, with the life-giving liquid eventually disappearing long before reaching those for whom it was intended.

That the problem persists to this day in those farming communities speaks to the slackness so endemic in this country. In the case of deep-rural communities, ambivalence flowing from the reality that many water thieves are hard-working farmers badly in need of the commodity to facilitate effective food production tied the hands of those who should have acted.

There is no question that successive governments have been shamefully tardy in implementing irrigation schemes for the most progressive farming areas -- many of which are dogged by long dry spells. Projects such as the New Forest/Duff House irrigation scheme should have been implemented decades ago and should be widespread across the farming landscape.

However, no number of wrongs can make a right.

Farmers, through their organised groups, their political representatives, etc, should be lobbying relentlessly for irrigation water. And, governments must be made to account. In the meantime, there can be no excuse for thieves who deprive others of drinking water or make it more expensive.

As the NWC and all well-thinking Jamaicans turn their collective face against water theft in towns and cities, we would strongly advise that the same attitude prevail in farming areas. Otherwise, we may well find that expensive deep-rural water schemes such as the revived Essex Valley Water Supply System, which is the latest effort to bring piped potable water to Junction and other thirsty south-east St Elizabeth communities, will also fall victim to thieves.

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