GOVERNMENT Minister Roger Clarke has accepted responsibility for the situation at the Pedro Cays, where hundreds of Jamaican's live for various periods each year without the benefit or running water and proper toilets.
There is, too, a pile-up of garbage with which many of the cays' inhabitants are fed up.
"The fact is that it should not have reached this stage. I think it was 2006 that we put an inter-ministerial committee in place, but nothing significant has happened since then. We are concerned," Clarke told the Jamaica Observer on Monday.
"Whatever it is, the Fisheries Division has a major role in it because we license the fisherfolk, so we take full responsibility," added Jamaica's minister of agriculture and fisheries.
A visit organised two weeks ago by the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) to Middle Cay — one of a trio of islands that comprise the cays — yielded several complaints from among the inhabitants.
Not only did they point to the need for proper toilet facilities, but also for a solution to the growing garbage dump to which they set fire each night to help address a rat and fly infestation problem.
On Monday, Clarke said that while the Government would do what it can to help those living on the cays, the inhabitants would themselves have to play a role.
"The people also have a responsibility. They cannot continue to operate under the oblivion," he insisted. "As Diana McCaulay (head of JET) said, we have become a country where we are virtually blindfolded when it comes to unsanitary conditions. Even on land, people throw garbage and then when everything done, it's 'Government, Government'," Clarke added.
Still, he said Government would not shy away from its responsibility to the cays since "the fact of the matter is that it is a part of Jamaica".
It would appear the residents are rising to the occasion. A Government team's visit to the main cay (Middle Cay) yesterday revealed an island in stark contrast to that seen two weeks ago.
"When we reached there today, the place was as clean as a whistle. What they [the residents] did is they burnt what they could burn and they made their own landfill and covered it properly. [There was] no garbage. And then they made a pit as a receptacle for whatever [other] garbage. They also separated the garbage and so on," Clarke told the Environment Watch shortly after exiting the Jamaica Defence Force helicopter that took him and the rest of the team to the cay yesterday.
He added that he was pleased with the effort.
"But," Clarke said, "It is really a paper-over situation. That is not sustainable. We have to find a way to move some garbage. [Also], the problem where they defecate all over the place, so we have to move now to put the sanitary conveniences in place and we are working with the Scientific Research Council to see the best method we can use; some satisfactory design for the conditions out there because the water table is very high."
Already the Government — following a meeting with environmental stakeholders, notably JET and The Nature Conservancy, which does conservation work on the cays — have committed to not only remove the garbage from Middle Cay, but also to undertake a census to determine the precise number of people living on the cays.
They have, too, indicated that they will establish an inter-ministerial committee to look at the long-term management of the cays.
In the wake of yesterday's visit, Clarke said they are also to set up a community association.
"It is a new frontier; it is a community to itself there and we have to find a way to bring some organisation, some governance structure to deal with what is happening out there," he said.