Editorial

The dangerous health fuse being lit by the Pedro Cays

Monday, September 17, 2012    

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PRIME Minister Portia Simpson Miller reminded us repeatedly yesterday at the public session of the ruling People's National Party (PNP) annual conference that she is about "more work, less talk".

Work can't only be about fixing problems at the macro level. It's also about improving people's lives at the local, community and household level. This we know is something well recognised by Mrs Simpson Miller and a philosophy held close to her heart.

In that respect, we trust the prime minister and the responsible agencies of her Government will move speedily to deal with the horrible crisis of sanitation and poor health/environmental practice at the Pedro Cays outlined in yesterday's Sunday Observer and in previous stories published last week.

For those who may be out of the loop, the Pedro Cays are a group of islets off Jamaica's southern coast whose waters provide much of the fish and crustaceans our people eat.

We are told by Mrs Petre Williams-Raynor, writer of the series of articles, that the Cays are also "nationally and regionally significant breeding sites for birds, including the Masked Booby, the Laughing Gull and the Royal Tern".

The situation at Pedro Cays is not new and is a prime example of bad governance by successive administrations going back decades. It's a case of the political directorate and the bureaucracy lacking the will, and not caring enough to do what is right and decent.

Deplorably bad governance explains how a community — seasonal or not — could have been allowed to grow to 400, including 150 women, with only the most primitive and very limited toilet facilities available.

We suggest that without wasting words, Mrs Simpson Miller should set out to have all the relevant agencies move immediately to resolve this disgraceful situation as a matter of utmost urgency. If as a long-term solution it requires limiting the number of people who go to the Pedro Cays, then for God's sake, let's do it.

And while the Government focuses on Pedro Cays, it had better also take a good look at the several other islets off Jamaica's coastline visited by fun seekers and fishermen.

Readers will recall that three years ago, popular Lime Cay, just off Port Royal, had to be closed by the health authorities because there were no sanitary conveniences, no water system, and no garbage disposal system.

Of course, poor sanitation is also a major problem on the mainland as well, though not often spoken about. Many people in our sprawling urban shanty towns have no toilet facilities and are forced to dispose of body waste in gullies and drains.

In deep rural Jamaica, a significant number of our primary schools are still forced to make do with pit toilets — some decrepit and broken down.

The financial constraints are well established, as underlined yesterday by Mrs Simpson Miller in her address to Comrades and the wider Jamaica. But we are also aware that ways must be found to accelerate the resolution of these sanitation issues, not least because such conditions represent a potential health disaster for all of us.

The situation cries out for decisive action from a proactive and caring government.

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