News

Ticky-ticky flop! - Portmore back to square one

— in the war on mosquitoes

BY COREY ROBINSON Sunday Observer staff reporter robinsonc@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, August 26, 2012    

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RESIDENTS of Portmore, St Catherine, will probably have to wait at least two more years for any noticeable reduction in the swarms of mosquitoes plaguing the municipality.

Portmore's Mayor George Lee said it would take that long to introduce proper sewerage disposal systems across the municipality. Their absence, he said, and the perpetual presence of raw sewage in waterways has long been at the heart of Portmore's mosquito problem.

Lee was reacting to the failure of the latest efforts at decreasing the number of mosquito larvae in the dozens of canals and gullies that crisscross Portmore by bolstering the 'ticky ticky' fish population.

Thousands of the Gambusia specie of the mosquito-eating fish were released into gullies and other waterways in Portmore last December.

However, months after the start of the programme — conducted under the auspices of the Portmore Municipal Council in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and the St Catherine Health Department — residents are still being held hostage by the pests.

The ticky-ticky fish, considered among the hardiest of its species, have all died out, said the mayor.

"They didn't do very well in Portmore... they couldn't survive the acidity," said Lee during a telephone interview with the Jamaica Observer.

"They would have survived if we had cleaner water. But because of the toxity with the sewage going into our drains, they couldn't. So the programme wasn't successful," he continued, adding that his opinion was supported by "experts".

According to Lee, in addition to killing the fish, the sewage present within the gullies has also fostered the heavy growth of water lillies, which are also major nesting places for mosquitoes.

But former Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Robert Montague, who last December released the first set of ticky-tickies into gullies in Waterford, told the Sunday Observer that he was unable to fathom the mayor's claim that the fish had died because of sewage present in their habitats.

"All the water quality tests and so, was done by Fisheries [Division] and by the Public Health Department of St Catherine, and we got clearance that the fishes could have survived there and then," said Montague.

"If there was an upsurge of sewage in the water, that would have been subsequent, and I cannot be held responsible for that," he said, noting that the fish was able to survive under very harsh and similar conditions in Singapore, among other countries.

"You can't evaluate or downgrade a project because of an external source," he added, making reference to the NWC and its responsibility to regulate sewage treatment in the area.

But this all means very little to residents who are forced to continue their nightly war with the mosquitoes, armed only with insect repellent in most cases.

"Trust me, I don't know what they are going to do to deal with the mosquitos, but they are killing us over here," complained a Washington Mews resident who gave her name only as Sharon.

"At nights we have to lock up inside because is just pure mosquitos out here. It wicked," continued the woman. She also blamed the high concentration of sewage in gullies and streams in Portmore as one of the major causes of the infestation.

Sharon pointed to heavy sewage and debris floating in the green slime in a gully that intersected with Germaine Road near Washington Mews.

"All when it touch night time the whole of this place stink; you can't believe is this smell so," she said in reference to the Garveymeade pond.

On Thursday, however, June Stone, who said she has been living in Waterford for decades, was less convinced of the role raw sewage played in the mosquito problem.

"Portmore was built with a lot of gullies and drains, and we also have a lot of ponds and dem tings there around us. So you will never get rid of the mosquito problem. We just have to live with it," she said.

She, like many of her neighbours, has grown used to shutting all the doors and windows in her home and essentially holing up inside her house from 5:00 each evening.

A male Waterford resident theorised that the "mosquitoes come out and look food (blood) between 5:00 and 8:00 pm. After that dem go back in; dem belly full," he said. "After dem times dere you can come back out because them (mosquitoes) are not so plenty," he continued.

But while Portmore residents continue to put up valiant individual battles against the voracious horde of flying carnivores, what else is being done, given the failure of the ambitious ticky-ticky project?

Mayor Lee said he anxiously awaits the start of the National Water Commission's (NWC) Portmore Sewerage Project, which will see effluent being better contained and removed from defective drains and pumping stations within the municipality.

That project, however, will not commence for another two years, he cautioned.

"So I suppose we are going to have to suffer for another two years," he said, before identifying Waterford, Bridgeport, and Portsmouth as being among the communities most affected.

He explained that after clamouring for help for some time, the National Water Commission (NWC) — the government agency responsible for Portmore's sewage system — has finally promised the municipality that it will address the situation of the stagnant water in gullies.

"They are aware of it... and they have put out tenders for contractors to work on the extension of pipelines from the defective plants in Portmore to Soapberry (Water Treatment Plant). That would probably take off in another two years or so. So I suppose we are going to have to suffer for another two years until that time," he continued.

An outline of the project on the NWC's website states that 95 per cent of Portmore's population are served by five decrepit treatment facilities within the area.

"The NWC wishes to decommission these facilities and deliver their influent sewage to the Soapberry WTP," the website read.

The project will also include, "the installation of sewer pipelines between the said transfer pumping stations and Soapberry, which would include a bridge that crosses the Rio Cobre River," it continued.

The municipal council, with the little resources it has, is currently drafting a maintenance programme which will see major gullies and waterways being regularly cleaned.

Lee said also that a new chemical, Aquatain, is being sought to spray communities as the mosquitoes have become immune to chemicals previously used.

"The spraying in Portmore is only about 18-30 per cent effective because I suppose the mosquitoes have gotten used to it. So this other chemical we are looking at — and I hope the health department will approve it — is not harmful to humans and will be much more effective against the mosquitoes," he said.

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