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'We can't bathe'

St Thomas residents rue water lock-offs

BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor — special assignment browni@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, November 26, 2012    

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FOR the past three or so years, residents of Hillview Gardens housing scheme in Yallahs, St Thomas have been staying up until midnight in some cases, just so they can get water for domestic use as the National Water Commission (NWC) has been turning off the supply at regular intervals throughout the day.

The situation is exacerbated, the residents say, by the fact that they continue to receive high water bills, inclusive of sewerage charges, when the community does not have a working sewer system to accommodate the proper disposal and treatment of human waste from the more than 500 houses in the development.

"We can't bathe and we can't wash or do what we need to because the NWC just turn off the water as they feel like," resident Gilbert Whittle told the Jamaica Observer North East.

According to Whittle, a senior citizen, the community has grown weary of waiting for the problem to be resolved and residents are concerned that, as was the case last year, their Christmas celebrations will again be dried up by the lack of water.

"I have to store water in a black tank and often times me haffi help out some persons because not everyone can afford to buy a black tank," he said.

Whittle said the NWC has been collecting sewerage charges under false pretences as the company has not been treating the sewage since the infrastructure was destroyed with the passage of Hurricane Ivan eight years ago.

"They are not treating it, so they shouldn't be charging us sewerage charge and, (as) a matter of fact, they should reimburse us that cost," he said.

Residents took the team on a tour of an area of the community where untreated sewage was seen flowing in fairly close proximity to the river. Work, they said, began three months ago to replace the sewerage system, but it's anyone's guess when it will be completed.

"Is only the one sewer fi all three phases of the housing scheme and since it wash wey all you see there is sewer water and mosquito and all ah that going into the river bed," the elderly resident said.

Minister with responsibility for information Senator Sandrea Falconer told journalists at last week's Jamaica House press briefing that the Government is aware of the water woes in Yallahs, but that the resources are not available to fix the problem.

"We are aware of the problem, but everything is about resources and we don't have the resources," she said.

But this is not good enough for the residents, who are insisting that they should not be deprived of this essential commodity, as there is no shortage of water in the parish.

One male resident, who requested anonymity, said he is convinced that the NWC is turning off the water in order to conserve on the electricity used to operate the water pump. He supported his theory with the claim that surrounding communities which are not served from that water supply are not affected in a similar way.

The residents said the problem started when the old pump was replaced with a new one, about four years ago.

"We were told that the first pump could pump and fill up with water at the same time, but the smaller pump cannot do both and that is why they have to turn off the water at times," the man explained.

The residents said their frustration is worsened by the high water bills they continue to receive.

"Mi get $6,000-water bill and me couldn't pay it so them cut it off," said another resident, who also requested anonymity, noting that he did not want to be seen as a troublemaker.

Celesta McLean, a Jamaican who has been living in the United States for several years now, said she was very disheartened when she came to visit relatives and discovered that there was no piped water available for her to take a shower when she wants to.

"I thought those days were over, but apparently not because I have had to be taking a sponge bath ever since I got here," McLean told the Observer North East.

Her relatives, she said, have not been able to catch enough water to use in the bathroom as they have been unable to wait up late at nights.

Another resident, who identified himself only as John, said residents get piped water on a scheduled basis.

"Sometimes we have to sit up until all midnight and wait on the water as if we are slaves to the water," he said in frustration, arguing that not all of them can afford to purchase plastic storage tanks as the smallest one costs in the region of $12,000.

"In the early years of the scheme we never use to have this problem. (It wasn't) until they built the third phase of the scheme and now we can't get little water to use in our homes," he said.

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