'We must deal with them!'

Ferguson promises islandwide water probe

Monday, September 07, 2015

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THE Ministry of Health yesterday warned that it will be launching an islandwide investigation into questionable water delivery methods following the Jamaica Observer's exposé yesterday that criminals have been taking advantage of the persistent drought.

In an interview with the Jamaica Observer, Minister of Health Fenton Ferguson said he has heard of instances in which people have tried to exploit the system and as a result would be moving to host a series of meetings with health officials across the island with a view to stepping up inspections of water truck operators.

"We have heard of persons who would be hoarding water [for example], and would be exploiting the present drought situation, and this is a matter that should be seriously looked into," said Ferguson, describing the actions as "a serious breach".

"I will be having discussion with my chief medical officer and my permanent secretary and the regional chairs to say 'Step up, look out for these persons, because we must deal with them'," Ferguson said.

Yesterday's Sunday Observer report revealed that there is currently no system in place to monitor the number of registered truck operators who deliver water to communities. The probe revealed that illegal operators, who are aware of this gaping hole in the system, were using tanks that were intended for other functions to deliver water. It revealed, too, that some operators were also abstracting untreated water from rivers.

"Tanks that were used for other business are now being repainted and are being used to deliver water [and] there is nothing in place to clamp down on this practice," one registered operator said.

The South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA) last week stated that the Ministry of Health had recently drafted a public health regulation to address the issue surrounding the trucking of water in light of the fact that nothing was in place before.

"The Ministry of Health has drafted public health regulations for the trucking of water, as there is currently no system in place. This will make registration mandatory for these trucks," the SERHA said.

Registered operators have, however, reacted in anger, claiming that with the present loop holes, criminals were exploiting the system and painting a bad image for those who were adhering to the rules.

"At this time serious checks need to be carried out before it's too late. In some instances, where the unregistered operators are concerned, the only thing that differentiates the tanks that they use to deliver water to some communities from tanks that were used for 'other purposes' is the paint," said one source.

SERHA has stated that trucks were checked occasionally, highlighting that "...trucks that collect water from approved sources such as the National Water Commission (NWC) and wells licensed by the Water Resources Authority in collaboration with the Ministry of Health for abstraction of water."

-- Kimmo Matthews

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