Water access and distribution need holistic, comprehensive approach


Water access and distribution need holistic, comprehensive approach

Monday, November 11, 2019

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We recall former prime minister Mr P J Patterson speaking many years ago of his pain at seeing so many Jamaicans still having to carry buckets of water on their heads, decades after the country's declaration of political independence from Britain.

It speaks to the inadequacies of governance and also the economic trials this country has experienced, that more than 13 years since Mr Patterson retired, many Jamaicans are still carrying water like beasts of burden.

It's commonplace to focus on the trials and tribulations caused by depleted water supplies in the capital city during annual droughts.

However, if anything, water problems for the poorest people in rural Jamaica are even worse. Even when there is no drought, many find themselves having to fetch water over unreasonable distances because they are not supplied by the National Water Commission (NWC) and they have no independent means of rainwater harvesting and storage.

Against this backdrop, we welcome the thoughtful approach of Senator Pearnel Charles Jr who oversees the water portfolio in the administration of Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

Mr Charles tells us of plans to use high technology, including desalination, as well as recycling methods for waste water. The latter would serve irrigation needs and even alternative energy projects.

Says he: “The thrust is to introduce water technology and innovation to expand the water sources and utilise the waste and by-products in general ways; use sewage to create biofuels, use the by-products of desalination ... we must start doing things that focus on sustainable development, improve efficiency that will create better management and give us better results.

“Desalination is a good secondary source. Say we have a drought, the diversification of our water sector is critical to be able to withstand the impact of climate change.”

It all sounds good. Of course, as Mr Charles himself points out, the high cost of much of this, not least desalination, is a huge hurdle.

Big projects apart, we wonder if more couldn't be done to establish small-sized schemes centred around rainwater catchment community tanks, for example.

Many of those tanks are to be found at high elevations — making it possible, it would seem, for water to be delivered through pipes to residents. Yet, for the most part it doesn't happen.

We wonder about the millions of gallons, rushing to the sea — often causing flooding in the process — from artificial surfaces in built-up areas in our cities and towns.

Couldn't innovative ways be found to trap and store such water?

And, how can we better utilise the life-giving liquid from our rivers and streams without negative impacts environmentally, economically, and socially?

Also, it seems to us, twinned to any project, large or small, should be a deliberate, focused policy to preserve and expand our forested watershed areas.

Long before scientists' acceptance and promotion of the climate change phenomenon, the irrefutable link was made between trees and water.

When trees disappear, so does water — both on the surface and in underground aquifers.

For that reason, quite apart from other environmental considerations et al, Mr Holness's pledge for the planting of three million trees over the next three years takes on great importance.

The society must ensure he follows through.

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