Gross negligence from the KSAC, SERHA and NWC

Monday, June 23, 2014

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It boggles the mind that the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation (KSAC) Health Department felt it necessary to threaten to publicise the names of communities in rural St Andrew where water provided by the National Water Commission (NWC) is not safe for drinking.

Even more shocking is the statement by one councillor — Mr Vernon McLeod — that this danger to people's health has existed for more than four years.

According to Mr Everton Baker, the chief public health inspector, the water quality indicators show that 33.3 per cent of the 18 bacterial samples taken from rural St Andrew water sources were bacterial-positive and contained the coliform bacteria that could cause diarrhoea.

In addition, the Health Department's checks found that there was no chlorine in 30 per cent of the 89 sampling points in rural St Andrew from which water was tested in April.

Mr Baker told last Thursday's meeting of the KSAC's Parish Disaster and Health Committee that his department had been in continuous dialogue with the NWC, which had promised to inform the public of the danger, while they try to fix the problem. However, the NWC has not fulfilled that promise.

On Friday, after the Jamaica Observer alerted the country to this disgrace, the South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA) issued a release urging residents of eight communities in rural St Andrew — Top Maryland, Woodford, Sailsbury Plains, Drummond Reservoir, Rosy River, Cane River Bottom, Drummond Filter Plant, and Lawrence Tavern — "to boil or use bleach to treat water used for domestic use".

Unsatisfactory levels of chlorine, SERHA said, have been detected in the water supply systems that serve these communities.

The public, the health authority added, "will be advised as soon as the water is considered safe for consumption". In the meantime, it said, it was strongly encouraging "the residents of the affected areas to treat the water they consume in order to prevent water-borne illnesses and maintain good health".

After issuing that release, SERHA, we suspect, must have felt that it provided a vital service to the residents of the affected communities.

However, the reality is that SERHA, the Health Department and the NWC have all failed in their duty to the people whose taxes pay their salaries.

For the minute that this deficiency in the water quality was detected they should have alerted the communities to, as SERHA belatedly advised, "treat the water they consume in order to prevent water borne illnesses and maintain good health".

We are unable to fathom why the KSAC Health Department thought it necessary that the NWC was the entity to advise the public about this issue.

Equally, we are amazed that — if what Mr Baker said was true — the NWC failed to inform the communities.

It appears that what is at play here is a grand game of passing the buck, regardless of the fact that people's lives are at stake.

We have argued before in this space that in well-ordered societies individuals are held accountable for their actions. We don't have a history of that here in Jamaica.

As such, we don't expect that anyone who had a role in this gross negligence will be cashiered.

The country cannot continue to accept that if we expect to meet the Vision 2030 goal of making "Jamaica the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business".




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