AN eight-member government delegation is today to visit Pedro Cays, where an estimated 450 Jamaicans have been living without the benefit of running water, adequate toilet facilities and a proper garbage disposal system.
Leading the team are Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Roger Clarke and Minister of Local Government and Community Development Noel Arscott.
"There is some plan for a group of eight people, including the two ministers (Clarke and Arscott) to go over there," permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Donovan Stanberry told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.
He said the objective of the visit was to have the team provided with "a first-hand look" at the conditions for themselves.
This was confirmed by Commander David Chin Fong of the Jamaica Defence Force Coast Guard, which has a permanent base on Middle Cay — one of the three tiny islands that make up the Pedro Cays.
"They really want to go to see the magnitude of the problem, to do an assessment of the state of it and to come up with a plan as to how to remove the garbage," he said.
Chin Fong added that the two ministers would be accompanied by head of fisheries Andre Kong on their 45-minute helicopter ride to the cays. Representatives from the National Environment and Planning Agency and the National Solid Waste Management Authority will also make the trip.
Pedro Cays was once again brought into sharp focus when the Observer broke the news last week of the poor public health conditions under which Middle Cay residents are living, some of them for up to six months each year.
In the absence of proper toilet facilities, residents have designated an area of the cay as their toilet, even as the burgeoning garbage dump has caused rat and fly infestation. The absence of running water has served to compound the problem.
Diana McCaulay, chief executive officer for the Jamaica Environment Trust, has welcomed news of the planned visit to the Cays, which are of national and regional importance for several species of birds, including the Masked Booby, an important nesting site for turtles as well as a gem in Jamaica's fisheries industry.
"I am very happy to hear that they are going. I hope that when they go there and see the scale of the problem they will be moved to very quick action," she said.
Added Chin Fong: "It is a step in the right direction. It is attention that the cays should have been given for some time now, and hopefully this added attention will keep the momentum going that will see to keeping the action going. This is not the first time that Pedro Cays would have been in the news, but not much would have been done except some studies commissioned. But we are all hoping that [this time] some real action can be taken on the ground."
Llewelyn Meggs, conservation co-ordinator of the Pedro Bank Management Programme of The Nature Conservancy, which also has a base on Middle Cay, said he was happy something was finally being done.